Bloomberg has better idea to tackle obesity

BARRIE MAGUIRE
BARRIE MAGUIRE
Posted: June 03, 2012

Could it be that the nation’s most health-conscious mayor has gone too far this time?

Judging from early public reaction, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban super-sized sodas and other sugary drinks at thousands of restaurants, corner stores, theaters, sports venues, and food carts could prove to be the biggest test of Bloomberg’s progressive public-health ideas.

The ban could take effect by next spring. The mayor said sweenetened drinks were being singled out because city health officials blame them for up to half of the increase in New Yorkers’ obesity rates over a three-decade period.

Critics, though, were quick to brand Bloomberg’s latest antiobesity initiative, which was announced Wednesday, as a nanny-state policy run amok. They also questioned its effectiveness, since soda drinkers could just order two of the maximum-size, 16-ounce containers to get around the mayor’s ban on bigger cups.

For a city that embraced with relative ease Bloomberg’s cutting-edge ban on indoor smoking — and celebrated as its restaurant trade boomed even beyond New York standards — criticism of the soda-size limits comes as a surprise, especially from such liberal quarters as the editorial page of the New York Times.

But it would be foolish to count Bloomberg out. After all, he convinced residents to eat their fries without trans fats, and tamed once-mean streets with policing tactics that cut the murder rate to historic lows. Heck, this guy even got New Yorkers to stop honking their car horns so often.

Without question, other mayors should be watching how it goes with New York’s latest public-health experiment, and consider following suit if Bloomberg’s strategy proves to be effective in reducing obesity rates.

Philadelphia already has a rule similar to New York’s smart one on chain eateries posting calorie counts. On obesity, Mayor Nutter — who led efforts to enact an indoor smoking ban similar to New York’s — shares much of Bloomberg’s enthusiasm for aggressive intervention, and has a track record on trying to stem sugary drinks.

Nutter’s controversial proposal of a tax on sweet drinks, as a means to cut consumption and generate revenue for antiobesity programs, has fizzled so far. But that’s largely due to the regressiveness of such a tax and its feared impact on jobs. It’s also hard to swallow the belief that a few pennies’ more for a soda will trim consumption.

In that sense, Bloomberg’s approach is far more sure-footed. It would limit portion size, which is key to trimming calories. While the tactic will continue to draw fire, even its critics should agree there’s nothing super about being super-sized around the waist.

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