It Isn’t The Soda, And It Isn’t The Size
Jun 10, 2012 - 10:00:00 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Michael Bloomberg, the anti-trans fat, anti-smoking, anti-obesity mayor of New York City has just declared war on the Big Gulp. If the city’s health board, whose members the mayor appoints, approves Mayor Bloomberg’s rule, no one in the five boroughs of New York will be allowed to purchase a soda larger than 16 ounces. The regulation would extend to restaurants, bodegas, movie theaters, food carts on the street and at entertainment venues. Will this make New Yorkers skinnier? Sadly, no.
Mayor Bloomberg claims the rule is not intended to stop free choice. You can buy soda and you can buy as many as you wish. If you want to drink a gallon at one sitting you still can but you will have to do it in 16-ounce increments. The mayor and his advisors believe that this will build in self-awareness and make people realize just how much they are consuming. Self-awareness is a big step in curbing overeating. We give the mayor credit for that, but he is targeting one food, and soda, by itself, did not produce our obesity epidemic. What’s next, oversize-muffins, large candy bars, family-size sugared cereal boxes, triple-scoop ice cream cones?
Don’t get me wrong I am no fan of soda. And, I think by-and-large Mayor Bloomberg has done a good job for the city. I also know, and have written in this column before, that liquid calories are different than calories from solid food. We process them differently, they seduce us to drink more than we should, and they often are the tipping point to adding more calories than we need each day. Nonetheless, soda is just one of the many facets of the complicated obesity picture. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the foremost advocate of healthy eating in the US, released a statement saying all foods fit into a healthy eating plan and there is no evidence to show food regulations, like the proposed soda ban, create positive health outcomes.
The real driver of obesity in this nation is the volume of food available. As a nation we produce too much food and it’s cheap. Recently, food costs have risen, but we still spent less than 10% of our total income on food, down from 23% in the late 1920s.
If food were not so inexpensive there wouldn’t be a restaurant chain on every corner and there wouldn’t be 99 cent value meals. Because raw food costs are low, restaurants can offer more food at lower prices. We are enticed to super-size or buy a value meal, even when we don’t need all that extra food. We can get endless beverage refills, so we drink more. As a nation, we are super-sizing ourselves.
Supermarkets are also begging us to buy. Pasta – 10 packages for $10 dollars. Sure it is a bargain but once you buy that much you also eat that much. Warehouse stores are teaching us that every household needs quarts of salad dressing, 10-pound bags of rice, and cases of soda. Eggs are sold in 3-dozen packs and fruit is sold in half-cases. Too much of any food, even the healthy choices, will make you gain weight.
The idea that overproduction of food in the US is the driver of obesity is not a very popular theory. Restaurants don’t want to stop offering value meals, it drives traffic. Casual restaurants see unlimited drink refills as a perk that gets customers to sit longer and order more food. Food companies are in intense competition to come up with the next hot food item that will spark sales.
Think about it – do we really need a full aisle of cereal choices, hundreds of energy drinks, or 50 different doughnuts to choose from? These foods are developed and marketed to compete for your food dollar. They entice you to buy which entices you to eat. Little of this has anything to do with your health, but it may have everything to do with your body size.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
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For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
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