I think Mayor Michael Bloomberg is right. At least in spirit. The need to understand and then decisively act upon the latest findings regarding sugar consumption, diabetes, overall nutritional guidelines and policies, and the public health crisis created by the U.S. obesity epidemic is urgent. This is true for both children and adults.
At first, my response to Bloomberg's critics was more visceral. Some libertarian types don't mind government intervention in the matrimonial decisions of gay men and women. They look the other way at wars fought in our name in places they can't find on a map. They want courts to get involved when they want to tear down the wall between Church and State.
However, the public outcry over previous attempts to stop food stamp recipients from using their benefits to purchase soda and "sports drinks" and Bloomberg's current proposal are indicative of how deep the problem runs in America.
Food is a drug. At least in the way it is marketed today, which is significantly different from when I grew up. As a child, sweets were referred to as "treats," and were dispensed far more judiciously than they are today. The proliferation of fast food restaurants that serve high fat, high sugar meals, as well as places like Dunkin Donuts, which are simply sugar dispensaries, has evolved as well.
A quarter-pound hamburger with cheese, fries and a Coke was what you had after playing in a football game. And typically once a week. Gatorade, the granddaddy of sports drinks, was gulped on the gridiron or diamond or basketball court during a game. You didn't eat those meals or drink those beverages everyday.
I recently lost over 30 pounds by giving up the lion's share of refined sugar in my diet and reducing my intake of pasta, rice and bread. I switched to almond milk and have reduced my dairy consumption significantly.
I watched the HBO documentary The Weight of a Nation and many of the overweight people interviewed there spoke of being not only demoralized, but confused by a chronic weight gain that they struggled with and were ultimately powerless to overcome. I can relate.
I exercised constantly yet watched my weight climb until I was certain something was wrong with me. In May of 2011, that fear was confirmed. I was told I was pre-diabetic and needed to aggressively rethink and regulate my diet. Gone were the days when I could eat a peanut butter cookie the size of a hubcap with my 5pm coffee as a "snack." With age, my body had changed. My health had changed. My ability to process significant amounts of sugar was gone. I was sick. And I wanted to get well.
Many of those who cry loudest about measures like the one Bloomberg has proposed are probably sick, too: hooked on high fat, high sodium and high sugar diets who don't want their "drug" taken away. Are there people who consume these products responsibly? Of course. But that isn't the point. At least not anymore. Americans are obese, and in some areas of high concentration, morbidly obese, in numbers that are sapping the treasuries of the fifty states, undercutting U.S. competitiveness, and leaving this country vulnerable to a set of long-term health crises that we will struggle to overcome, if ever. All the while, millions will die, unnecessarily, simply because they fell victim to the marketing of unhealthy dietary choices.
Whether you think an elitist, billionaire New Yorker has any business blocking your path to the soda fountain is one issue. His motives, however, are unquestionable.
Watch The Weight of a Nation on HBO to learn just how on target Bloomberg is.