"A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today - and in fact we have forgotten."
John F. Kennedy
Late last week the New York City Board of Health passed a ban, pushed by Mayor Bloomberg, on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters.
Nobody disagrees that the problem of obesity has reached epidemic proportions in America and that childhood diabetes is becoming a hugely dangerous and growing problem. I also understand that reducing obesity will save taxpayers a lot of money and help to reduce healthcare costs and energy consumption. These are all good things. However, to pass a law to ban the sale of large sodas is a travesty.
There are two fundamental issues with the Mayor’s decision; I am insulted because he assumes that we are all morons or idiots, unable to make personal choices about what is good and bad for us. And yes, it is a personal choice, even if some of these decisions can affect society as a whole. This brings me to my second point, the method he has chosen (to achieve the right outcome – a healthier America) is a slippery slope that starts to involve the government taking over personal decisions and mandating and legislating what is good and bad for us. The single greatest cause of obesity is not sugary drinks; in fact, I would wager that poor eating habits, portion sizes, lack of exercise and low self-esteem are all major contributors to the problem. So why should he stop here? Why not restrict the portions that can be served in restaurants, or even have suggested entrées based on your body weight. Then let’s make theaters, ballparks and street vendors only carry healthy fruit and vegetable snacks. And why stop there why don’t we start fining parents whose children binge eat based on low self-esteem. Heck I have longed believe that many people today are not fit to be parents, so let’s start to issue parenting licenses that require prospective parents to pass a series of tests, just like we make them when they want to get behind the wheel of a car. After all, our politicians and government know what is best for all of us and only ever look out for our best interests. Of course, I exaggerate to make my point, but you can see how this path is a slippery slope that can lead to Saudi Arabia-esque society and not the America with the freedoms we now know.
The Mayor is right that we need to tackle this major health crisis and he is also right that cutting down on the amount of soda and sugary drinks people consume will help, BUT we need to achieve the same objective through education and by helping people to make better decisions about their health and their lives. Bloomberg himself also argues that the proliferation of marketing and advertising messages, particularly aimed at the poor and less educated make a certain segment of our population vulnerable to these messages. So let’s start by fixing the problem with a counter campaign that informs and teaches people about the long-term and serious affects these things have on our bodies, our lives and how they also affect the people around us and society as a whole. Let’s pass laws that make it mandatory for all fast food joints and other eating establishments to clearly show the calories, fat and ingredients that go into the food we are about to consume. Let’s start a movement using celebrities and role models to stop endorsing products that are bad for our kids. Let’s pass legislation that forces schools to have recess time again, and completely take corporations out of the school lunch rooms, so they can no longer dictate the menu based on their bottom lines.
The reality is that leaders today don’t have the courage, integrity or fortitude to solve the big problems that we are facing. This would mean taking on trade unions, school boards, celebrity donors and the same corporations that finance their re-election bids and fill their campaign coffers; not to mention the fact that their popularity numbers among voters would also plummet if they were to force them to face some of the cold hard truths. So instead they focus on the small, less relevant things or make up problems that simply divert our attention from the real issue. To make us believe that they have made some progress but it is really just a sleight of hand and solves nothing. Rather than take on the real and tough issues, Mayor Bloomberg, like every other politician, took the easy way out by making it more difficult for us to buy a 32 oz. drink.