Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Some, Meddlesome Mayor’s Nothin’ but a Soda Jerk (June 1, 2012)

Somewhere in TV heaven, Brooklyn icon Ralph Kramden is so exasperated over Mayor Bloomberg’s latest proposal that he’s been shouting, “How sweet it ain’t!”
New Yorkers with expanding waistlines and a craving for sweets have clearly ignored repeated advice from health pros and nutritionists that too much sugar leads to a variety of health-related disorders.
But don’t worry, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a veteran proponent of healthier lifestyles, has a plan — whether you like it or not.
More than two years after the mayor encouraged a reduction in salt intake when he urged food manufacturers and food chains to reduce the amount of salt in their offerings, he’s targeted another condiment for reduction on the opposite end of the taste spectrum. That came on the heels of previous Bloomberg health-related campaigns, such as smoking bans and restaurant trans-fat bans.
The mayor’s latest scheme would prohibit food service establishments from selling sugar-laden beverages that contain more than 25 calories per eight fluid ounces. The proposal needs to be approved by the city’s Department of Health before restaurants, bodegas and movie theaters will be forced to reduce the size of sugary drinks or face fines expected to be about $200 per violation. However, supermarkets and grocery stores will still be permitted to sell super-sized soft drinks.
Bloomberg’s opponents could care less that his proposal is not an all-out prohibition on sugary drinks or that an individual can still buy two 16-ounce drinks, which is why the chorus of disapproval, in some circles, has gotten a bit extreme.
No sooner did the mayor announce the proposal last week then there was a deluge of controversy and debate. However, a Facebook photo (via the Looking Spoon web site), fittingly brings wit to the issue with an image of an out-of-date soda fountain worker adjacent to one of the mayor depicted as a contemporary “soda jerk.”
Some whine that this is just more uncalled for meddling by Bloomberg into a matter which he should just avoid — their personal lives. However, the pro-business web site, Investors.com, may have gone too far when it referred to Bloomberg as a “Sugar Nazi” and a tyrannical dictator.
Since when is the right to an excess of sugar guaranteed by the Constitution? Nonetheless, some believe it is part of their gluttonous pursuit of happiness.
The mayor’s announcement prompted the American Beverage Association to protest with a full page ad in Friday’s Daily News with claims that sugar sweetened beverages are not as much of a problem leading to obesity as some claim. The ad asserts that calories from beverages have decreased over the last decade while obesity rates have climbed, implying that sugary sodas are not the problem.
What else can you expect from an organization that exists solely to promote an industry that dispenses products crammed with sugar and ignores the Center for Disease Control figures that puts the number of obese Americans at over 35 percent? 
Despite the uproar, the mayor’s supported by lots of evidence — such as drinking beverages, like a 20-ounce soda, contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar. Health experts maintain that amount is unsafe, as it increases the risks of obesity, diabetes and other health problems. Though Bloomberg’s style lacks the compassion of a caring parent, our well-being, but more importantly our children’s, is at stake.
Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement for the last decade, we know that obesity has reached epidemic proportions nationwide, as well as locally. According to city Health Department statistics, well over half of New Yorkers are either obese or overweight, with almost a third of that number being children between ages six and 11.
Bloomberg critics say it’s none of his business if people choose to ignore warnings about unhealthy diets and let their waistlines expand. But the mayor’s agenda can also help reduce health costs, which are strangling government and personal budgets. A little bit less here and there couldn’t hurt and might, over time, prove to be a wise decision.
Decades ago I went cold turkey and stopped adding natural or artificial sweeteners to my daily cup of coffee. Prior to that, I drastically reduced my consumption of soda after I spilled some on the hood of an old car and the paint quickly disappeared. While soda doesn’t eat away at a stomach like it did the surface of my car, it did raise a red flag that the chemicals in that soft drink must be risky. These days I prefer sugarless or diet iced teas, unsweetened lemonade or refrigerated tap or bottled water.
Despite all the debate, Bloomberg does have a salient argument. After all, it would be extremely unflattering if the city became known as the Really Big Apple.
Nevertheless, the mayor’s proposal should be a signal to adults, especially parents, to take a more responsible role. While they may consider the ban unduly intrusive, it should make adults more aware that less sugar would be more beneficial to their own and their children’s health.
If the Health Department approves the sugar ban, it is not expected to take effect until next March. Nine months after that, Michael Bloomberg will be out of office. Perhaps those who don’t see eye to eye with his latest or prior dietary and nutritional regulations will salute his exit by gulping down a sweet, super-sized soda.
You gotta admit that, except for a fleeting thirst quencher, those extra large and super-sized soft drinks have absolutely no positive or nutritional value. Despite his seemingly good intentions and  practical advice — albeit from a politician not a health professional — most people still think Mayor Michael Bloomberg ain’t nothin’ but a soda jerk.