Hoppy’s Commentary for Tuesday

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has caused a stir by proposing a ban on the sale of large soft drinks and other sugary drinks within the city to combat obesity.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” said Bloomberg.  “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something.”

According to the New York Times, Bloomberg’s plan “would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces… would be prohibited.”

The Times says the plan “would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.”

Indeed, obesity is a national health problem   In fact, West Virginia’s obesity rate of 32.5 percent is second only to Mississippi at 34 percent, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control.

And as we get heavier, more of us have related health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.  The CDC estimates medical costs associated with obesity at $147 billion in 2008.

The mayor’s proposed ban is only for New York, but that city often leads the way for other cities and states.  For example, the mayor’s ban on trans fats is now a model for other communities.

But at what point does government action move from legitimate protection of the public safety to a nanny state?

According to CBS News, Comedian Jon Stewart on The Daily Show mocked Boomberg’s plan.  “Pointing to huge plates of food, Stewart said, ‘All this is legal in New York City until, God forbid, I want to wash it down with a little something as pure and refreshing as Mountain Dew.’”

Historically, our parents—if they were doing their jobs—drilled us about moderation.  But in today’s culture of self-absorption, moderation feels as antiquated as the dial telephone.  Clearly Mayor Bloomberg believes we now have to be protected from ourselves.

Granted, regulating the size of soda is a small matter, but that’s the point.  Have we lost so much control over our personal behavior that we need government to set down rules for what we eat and drink right down to the size of a Coca-Cola?

Perhaps few of us want to proclaim our “right” to drink a 32 oz. Big Gulp. To do so trivializes legitimate rights that we periodically find under assault. 

Interestingly, just yesterday Mayor Bloomberg said he would support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession. 

Forget the pot, get the pop. 

Bloomberg’s big soda ban is another indicator of how far we are drifting, both in terms of personal responsibility for our own health and government’s insistence to fix everything that’s broken, even when that fix is as inane as trying to control the size of a soft drink purchased by adults.

The late science fiction writer Robert Heinlein said, “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

Unfortunately we appear to be devolving into a nanny state where a few claim providence to micromanage the lives of people living in a free society, the members of which appear all to willing to acquiesce by abdicating personal responsibility. 




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