From “The Big Book Of Bad Ideas”: NYC Moves To Ban Sugary Drinks

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New York is abuzz with a new proposal from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery stores or convenience stores.

Full article:


No 20oz sodas for anyone.

Except for diet sodas (and even those have their own health hazards), every one of the unaffected drinks can encourage obesity. They all break down into sugar, spike insulin levels, and lead to fat gain. Many fruit juices have more sugar per serving than sodas.

If the nation wants to curb obesity, they can start by eliminating subsidies for dietary power-players like the grain industry.

A couple of online comments on the New York Times article that were particularly disturbing:

This is a sensible, long overdue regulation borne out of the recognition of the “supersizing” of American portions. Bloomberg is not outlawing sugary drinks. He is intelligently outlawing the sales of huge “servings” that have sugar content that far exceeds what the public might expect and which, when consumed every day year after year, cause fat then obesity then the list of related illnesses: diabetes, heart disease, etc. It is time someone finally took a sensible approach to regulating seemingly harmless but actually harmful consumption of everyday foods.

It’s no surprise we have fewer and fewer personal freedoms with people like this wandering around.

Another well-meaning but misguided comment:

Like banning texting and cell phone use while driving, and requiring people to wear seat belts in autos, you can look at this issue as a public policy issue or as an attempt at totalitarian/authoritarian overreach…..Mayor Bloomberg’s measure is a bit rough and needs to be refined. Good as a start.

There’s a BIG difference between outlawing cell phone use while driving and banning the consumption of certain foods.

I support the banning of texting/cell phones because it’s an instance in which Americans can impose harm on each other through careless driving. There’s little difference between driving while intoxicated and staring down at your phone while on the highway; distracted driving is distracted driving.

The ’Harm Principle’ does not apply to food and beverage, at least not as long as we don’t have government-run healthcare.

If person ‘A’ wants to stuff their face with ice cream and gas station hot-dogs, that’s their business. It doesn’t create a clear danger for the people around person ‘A’. Person ‘B’ and government official ‘C’ don’t get to enact a law to ‘protect’ that person from making decisions that could negatively affect their health.

In a truly free society, we do not get to impose our value system on others.

If government officials want to tackle health issues, they can ramp up public outreach. Taxing unwanted behavior and subsidizing preferred choices can be effective. Of course, that presumes people know what constitutes a ‘good’ choice—much of the dietary principles advocated by the government and powerful special interest groups are rife with misinformation.

One of the more popular suggestions for getting the nation to eat healthier is to decrease the price of fruits and vegetables. Artificially driving down the price of greens through government subsidies.

We’ve tried that—it doesn’t work.

Researchers actually found that the government would have to pay people to eat fruit and vegetables in order to raise national consumption. Never mind the question of whether it’s ethical or constitutional to use public monies in that fashion.

You cannot legislate behavior and preferences.

Public service announcements have also made a sizable dent in the smoking population. Advertisements pairing information with moderate fear appeals are the most powerful motivators.

If initial public service ads are ineffective—bureaucracies are synonymous with ineptitude—-consider hiring psychologists, sociologists, nutritionists, and advertising agencies that can craft more persuasive appeals.

If the undesired behavior still continues unabated, there’s a strong possibility it fulfills some emotional or physical need or desire. Good luck eliminating it. Again, you cannot legislate behavior and preferences.

Any other action, like outlawing foods that don’t pose an imminent danger to society, is outside the scope of government responsibility. Well-intentioned but ill-conceived measures often beget unintended consequences.


Prohibition: The reason people like this still lord over inner-cities in 2012.

Both opposition and support for Bloomberg’s plan has been loud and decisive. Leroy Comrie, a New York City councilman (Queens) who himself introduced a bill calling for a ban on the sale of toys with Mcdonald’s Happy Meals, is a noted critic of Bloomberg’s proposal.

Politicians have plenty of practice talking out of both sides of their mouth, so Comrie’s position isn’t surprising.

If this sugary drink law actually hits the books, we could see more dietary restrictions put on the table:

“Three grams of red meat per serving maximum.”

“Omelettes cannot contain more than four eggs.”

“No more than five grams of saturated fat in that side dish.”

It sounds crazy, but it’s not so far-fetched. If this bill passes in 2013 (unlikely), a powerful precedent will be established. It’s not so different from ‘Eminent Domain’, a statute that allows the government to seize private property in the purported interest of the public good.The only difference is that we would cede dietary autonomy instead of property rights.

Unfortunately, restrictions on personal liberty in favor of protection from the possibility of societal ills is a rising trend across the globe.

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