HEALTH MATTERS: A hard push on soft drinksDr. Raymond Goldsteen answers the question: What is the “Big Gulp” controversy?
By: Dr. Raymond Goldsteen, Grand Forks Herald
Q. What is the “Big Gulp” controversy?
A. Soft drinks are much in the news this month because of a court ruling that overturned New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s regulation to ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters. Judge Milton Tingling struck down the ban. Opinions for and against the “Bloomberg law” have been strong, and not just in New York.
On the day of Tingling’s ruling, the Mississippi Senate passed what has been called the “anti-Bloomberg” bill because it would ban local governments from requiring calorie counts on restaurant menus or limiting portions, which the Bloomberg law was intended to do. The governor of Mississippi has signed the bill into law. But many have come out strongly in favor of the Bloomberg ban, citing the damage done by consumption of soda.
Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights, writes that “the (New York City) Board of Health has the power, indeed the responsibility, to regulate sugary drinks for the sake of city residents, particularly the poor.”
Regularly consuming large quantities of soft drinks leads to obesity, heart disease and other serious health problems. Researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center conducted a meta-analysis of 88 studies to examine the effects of soft drink consumption on health. Their analysis showed that people who regularly drink soda do not compensate by eating less food, so their overall calorie consumption rises.
Soda consumption was also associated with obesity, diabetes and lower consumption of milk, calcium and other nutrients. Other research has found longer hospital stays and a higher risk of dying among hospitalized children who were obese compared to normal-weight children. Increased caloric intake among 2- to 11-year-olds in the U.S. from 2003 to 2010 is mainly attributable to sugar-sweetened drinks.
Q. How should we promote health?
A. The poor health of a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker affects us directly, and indirectly through their higher health care costs, lost productivity in the workplace and reduced contributions to the community.
Research shows it is very difficult to change ingrained behaviors such as soda consumption, smoking or a sedentary lifestyle, even more so if the habit began in childhood. Options for changing unhealthful behaviors include disincentives such as higher life insurance premiums for smokers and higher taxes on cigarette sales; wellness incentives, such as when health insurers pay for programs to help their beneficiaries stop smoking; and education when physicians counsel patients to stop smoking, media campaigns promote nonsmoking and groups are formed to support smokers who wish to quit.
Mayor Bloomberg made a sincere effort to improve health, but his strategy lacked a systems approach. A communitywide wellness initiative to improve nutrition and reduce consumption of “empty calories” such as soda, particularly among the young, would have been more successful by taking into account community values and garnering community input and support at the outset.
Goldsteen is director of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences Master of Public Health degree program, which is jointly offered with North Dakota State University. He has devoted most of his professional life to advancing public health and holds a doctorate in public health.
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