From Supersized to Downsized
By Laura Cipullo and the Whole Nutrition Services Team
7-Eleven proudly offers a 44-ounce “Super Big Gulp”. KFC has something called the 64-ounce soda bucket – an entire gallon of liquid that is sold as a single portion. According to Reader’s Digest, this is the caloric equivalent of a KFC Honey BBQ sandwich, a house side salad with ranch dressing, macaroni and cheese, and half an apple turnover (roughly 780 calories and 217 grams of sugar). When did drinking an entire gallon of soda in one sitting become commonplace and acceptable?
Outrageous soda sizes like these and others prompted former Mayor Bloomberg’s health board to pass a law in March of 2013 prohibiting the sale of sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces in New York City. This “soda ban”, as it was widely known, was immediately met with criticism, especially from the American Beverage Association and fast-food restaurants. Critics argued that drinking gallons of soda is a personal choice and the government shouldn’t be allowed to regulate that choice. After much deliberation, the Supreme Court ruled against the ban and by August of the same year, New Yorkers were free to eat, drink and be merry – but at what cost?
These issues were debated at the very first MOFAD Roundtable event, a new program from the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) which aims to bring together experts and advocates to debate current controversial food issues. The event took place on December 5 and featured the following diverse panel of experts:
- Joel Berg, Executive Director, New York City Coalition Against Hunger
- Nicholas Freudenberg, Faculty Director, NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College
- Parke Wilde, Associate Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University
- J. Justin Wilson, Senior Research Analyst, The Center For Consumer Freedom
- Lisa Young, Adjunct Professor, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University
Nicholas Freudenberg, Faculty Director of the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College moderated the discussion and started off with the following facts: Over the past 20 years, sugary beverages have contributed to a 60% increase in overweight among 6-11 year olds and teens consume half their calories from sugary drinks. In very recent years, the soda trend has diminished slightly but it is still predicted that this generation will live less years than the previous one. So what is the solution? Is it more education? Unfortunately, pro-ban panelists argued, by itself, health education does little to change behavior; we need to do more and the soda ban is a good place to start. While critics argue that removing a choice created a “nanny” state and even went as far as calling the mayor “Nanny Bloomberg”, aren’t “Nanny Pepsi” and “Nanny Coke” doing the same thing? Wouldn’t a real nanny offering a gallon of sugary soda to a child on a regular basis be charged with negligence?
Pro-ban panelists also raised a good point in saying that when people think that limiting the power of government influence increases individual power, what it really does is increase the power of big business. “Obesity is directly related to larger portion sizes,” explained Lisa Young, a professor at New York University and author of The Portion Teller Plan, “It’s time to reset the environment; we need an environment that promotes healthy choices.” Pro-ban panelists also argued that the ban is not really a ban at all – people can still buy four smaller cups if they are really craving more soda. Rather, it’s the idea of not giving people the option of mindlessly drinking 64-ounces in one sitting. If someone is genuinely thirsty after the first 16 ounces, they have to actively make the decision to purchase more.
Choice was a big issue with anti-ban panelist J. Justin Wilson, Senior Research Analyst for The Center For Consumer Freedom, arguing that the government trying to remove our choice is only sending a message that people aren’t smart enough to make healthy decisions on their own. “With these policies, we’re removing all personal responsibility for one’s health,” he said, “and dramatically changing one’s weight requires a whole lifestyle change.” Joel Berg, Executive Director for New York City Coalition Against Hunger countered that it’s the “economic environment that’s preventing personal responsibility. When you’re poor, you don’t have a personal choice. Soda is cheaper.” Young also raised a good point in saying that with $190 billion in healthcare costs, are the choices being offered to us really choices at all? Is a choice of a 32-oz, a 44-oz, and a 51-oz at the movie theatre really a choice? None of those are healthy choices in her book.
With an issue like this, one that scares people into thinking their personal choice is taken away in the “land of the free”, there is no easy answer. In the end, it is certainly up to the individual to make healthy choices but when there are so many unhealthy ones being thrown our way, our judgment may certainly be clouded. A soda ban would have at least removed the mindless gulp of a gallon’s worth of sugary water just because it was there. Here at EALM (Eating and Living Moderately Blog) we strongly encourage our readers to make mindful choices and recognize the consequences of these choices.
What do you think?