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NYC Soda Pop Ban: How Sweet It Is

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The NYC Board of Health may have killed off the jumbo 16 oz. cup of soda pop, but is this anti-obesity campaign really that sweet?

Sure the initiative, championed by Mayor Bloomberg, seems health-conscious on the surface, but perhaps the veneer is a bit sugar-coated.

If this new New York City ban is really intended to prevent the typical teenager from overweight-dom, then maybe we should all take a "LOOK" at what's going on beneath the layers of fructose. After all, the city's latest safety warning logo is being painted on 110 intersections. "LOOK" before you walk can easily apply to "LOOK" before you slurp. What's good for our over-stimulated pedestrians is good for our over-sugared consumers.

Perhaps we should all be reviewing our math and science skills. It may require us to probe deeper, investigate what's going on behind the closed doors of our city board meetings, beneath the surface of corn syrup.

It all seemed so simple and ban-worthy at first. The 16 oz. super-sweetened size of soda nixed. End of story. But really, guys (aka Board of Health-niks), does it take a teenage rocket scientist to figure out that even if one 16 oz. cup is verboten,

A) Two individual 8 oz. cans would do the trick;
B) three 5.333 oz. cans could be spread out over chemistry and biology class;
C) four 4 oz. cans could bribe the gym teacher for a smoothie?

Ok, that was pretty basic. But the plot thickens. The problem is that two 8 oz. cans might cost more than the 16 oz. economy size. That does not bode well for families on budgets (and seriously, Mr. Mayor, you must be familiar with balancing budgets -- see #4, below).

In order for a family of four (or a batch of friends) to pool their liquid resources, they need some alternate city planning. Take four students hanging out at the Multiplex. If one purchases a gigantic soda, what's to stop him or her from divvying up the supply into four portions -- Styrofoam cups are still free for the asking -- then going back indefinitely for more. Hence the "REFILL" loophole. For more details, see #3, below).

Things can get even more complex. Do our students now have to take College Prep classes to calculate the price, size and volume and contents of the cup? We're talking fractions, algebra, logarithms, and geometry, kids. Maybe even calculus.

Kids may have to be tutored just to calculate the ratio of cups to mug measurements; thermos to tumbler; milk carton to juice container. For example, class, how many 16 oz. Coke bottles would it take to fill up the vente cappuccino cup?

Maybe the boardroom should consider going back to the classroom:

1. MATH -- first, one really has to question the mayor's mathematical aptitude. We know he founded and became the CEO of a major financial organization filled with launch pads, desktop pricing monitors, charts, and analysis screens. We also know he can divide and conquer, but can he multiply and divide? And what about his algebraic equations?

If one 16 oz. can costs X, and Billy is bolting out of his high school biology class at the rate of 4.3 miles/hour, right past the vending machine (which Billy assumes has 86'ed the 16-oz drink), into the mayor's bicycle lane for 7.53 city blocks to reach the local bodega for a giant fountain soda; and Kristin is jogging in the opposite direction at 3.8 miles/hour to reach the same location, how long will it take each of them to realize that school vending machines are exempt from the ban?

2. CHEMISTRY -- if Mike had sat still long enough in chemistry class, he would have studied the sugar crystal sucrose molecule (C12 H22 O 11) and found that the one in the cup of fizzy soda is identical to the one in coffee shop sugar packs; in vanilla cupcakes; blueberry muffins; or even in the diner sugar container used to pour into unlimited pots of coffee to keep his City Hall staff from nodding off through all those press conferences about... soda pop.

3. BUSINESS -- Again, hizzoner's corporate and biz-savvy noggin notwithstanding, there is something in America called free market competition. If we don't like Dunkin Donuts, we go to Starbucks. The restaurants and movie theaters graded by the Board of Health are the ones that are prohibited from selling the super-size drinks. But other businesses -- like groceries and convenience stores -- are not included in the ban. Okay, so that means:

a) The city is really only doing a half (or half-baked) elimination job.
b) McDonald's may not be allowed to sell those gigantic cups of coke, but they can sell 8-oz cups and offer free re-fills. Really? NOW where's the drop in sugar count? Maybe we should be banning the re-fill.
c) If any kid educated by the NYC schools gives this issue any thimble of thought, he or she can simply walk into a 7-11, and get a Big Gulp -- so there!

4. BUDGET -- Yes, the city spends inordinate amounts of time and overtime in balancing the NYC budget. Bloomberg is more than minimally aware of the dwindling incomes of families, and growing attempts to tighten belts. If families are forced to buy two or three smaller drinks at a higher cost than the 16 oz. economy size, budgets will be stretched, belts will be pulled, and there will be less leftover change available for more nutritional (and more pricey) items, like vegetables, fruits and grains, and, of course, pistachio gelato.

5. CAFETERIA -- Recently a Queens middle school decided to move school lunch up to the ungodly hour of 9:45 a.m. This is bordering on force-feeding, assuming many of those New York kids will have eaten breakfast a mere hour or two earlier. Talk about obesity: eggs, toast, oatmeal and orange juice at 8:00; chili and noodles at 10... too many carbs, all within a two-hour morning time slot... I call it super-sized meal count! If they want kids to have brunch, give them a pass to the private dining room at Gracie Mansion... or better yet, Mickey D's, where at least they've got some healthy snacks. They've got egg white McMuffins, so how about lemon meringue pie -- it's filled with egg whites, and that cancels out the sugar content, doesn't it?

6. NUTRITION -- If the Board of Health really wanted to share some nutritional snack facts, they'd create fancy un-sweetened pie charts and Excel spread-the-word sheets, informing us that fruit juices, dairy drinks and healthy munchies just might have more sugar than the enemy 16-oz soda at 27 grams.

a) 8-oz glass of Ocean Spray cranberry cocktail: 33 grams
b) carton of flavored milk: 25-30 grams
c) 8-oz cup of granola: 30 grams
d) Craisins: 29 grams

And what about the healthy alternatives of cane sugar, unrefined brown sugar, or organic agave -- a natural sweetener with low glycemic index, which is slowly absorbed into the body, preventing spikes in blood sugar. Agave has been consumed by ancient civilizations over 5,000 years ago... why not us?

7. GYM -- Perhaps the NYC Board of Health should form an alliance with the Board of Ed physical ed teachers and the sponsor of the NYC Marathon, ING... and promote an activity that would encourage huge weight loss in regular work-out routines around the city: a little known sport called runnING.

8. CIVICS -- If the mayor and the board know anything about NYC, one of our favorite annual events is the Feast of San Gennaro. Who can make it through September in Little Italy without meandering through stalls of meatballs, eggplant heroes, and the ultimate mouth-watering reward for all that trekking. If the Board wants equal-opportunity sugar-banning, hit us where it really hurts. Ban the Cannoli.