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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Does Bloomberg’s sugar tax go to far?

Published: March 21, 2013
Section: Opinions

America could be in big trouble if it doesn’t get its weight problem under portion control, but how should the government trim increasing waistlines without overstepping its boundaries?

State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling recently struck down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legislation restricting sugary drinks with more than 25 calories per ounce to no more than 16 oz. containers in restaurants, pizzerias, movie theaters, bars, and fast food joints. This would include energy drinks, sodas, slushies, sports drinks, juice drinks, smoothies, and others, although alcohol or milk-based products would be excluded. He claimed the city’s Board of Health could only intercede “when the City is facing imminent danger due to disease.”

Whether obesity is classified as a disease or not, it’s certainly an imminent health concern. Sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity and make up 11 percent of children and teenager’s calories, and when foods are sold in extreme quantities, people cannot exercise effective portion control.

Posting nutritional facts is one thing, but restricting someone from purchasing a product that, while not healthy, is certainly not fatal, denotes for some the growing ‘nanny-state’. Pundits have observed that the government is increasingly infringing on personal freedoms. It restricts smoking and drinking with a tax—but these certainly have the potential to do much more damage than sugary drinks. Plenty of healthy people enjoy sodas and slushies as a treat once and awhile.

However, I don’t think banning sugary drinks in restaurants is the best solution to obesity.

People can still purchase these drinks in supermarkets and convenience stores, probably the largest providers of such products, and 16 oz. of a sugary drink is still plenty of sugar. We don’t want to move towards a fascist state that dictates to its people what it can and cannot eat or how much of a certain food it should eat.

A major problem is that healthy food costs a great deal more than a typical fast food meal of burger and fries. New York City Community Health Surveys found city residents who live below the federal poverty line are twice as likely to be obese as those who live in households with income at least six times the poverty line. A burger at a typical fast food chain costs 99 cents, but fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive. Government subsidies for healthy food in supermarkets and school lunches would provide a much more respectful and popular alternative to taxes for sodas and slushies.

Food isn’t the only issue though. Kids need exercise just as much as they need healthy food. Sitting on the couch watching TV doesn’t provide any benefits, and research shows exercise can help improve mental and emotional health.

Mayor Bloomberg should spend more time on getting kids outside running around and playing ball. Government-mandated school exercise requirements are legal, so increase the time kids have to spend in gym class or participating in intramurals and after school sports where they will also enjoy themselves and stay out of trouble.

Restricting drinks will probably have an insignificant effect on children’s health, but encouraging healthy food and exercise is a positive way to promote a nourishing, wholesome lifestyle.