Bloomberg’s Health Hypocrisy, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 7 2012 @ 10:42am

A reader writes:

Saletan fumed: "You can have it one way or the other, Mr. Mayor. You can preach moderation or the right to stuff yourself. But you can’t do both." Why not?  I don't support the soda ban, but there's no contradiction between regulating ordinary people's lives while allowing (or even promoting) a once-a-year public spectacle involving trained performers.  It's like calling laws against keeping tigers as pets hypocritical because Ringling Brothers comes to town every year, or arguing that street drag racing needs to be legalized in Florida because of the Daytona 500. 

Another continues the "nanny state" thread from last week:

I'm a lifelong New Yorker and have a bit of a social libertarian streak in me.  With that in mind, I'm OK with Bloomie's Ban. Here's my issue: People are fat. 

People have no – and I mean NO – self control when it comes to this stuff (soda).  People are going to buy soda; it's that simple.  The only way to keep them from becoming morbidly obese – which has negative impact on others, not in the same way smoking in public does, but through health care costs – is to limit the exploding portions of the past 30 years.  I do understand the reservations of the "paternalistic" legislation, but sometimes, just sometimes, we need protection from ouselves.


What I haven't seen in the soda defense is this: these enormous soda sizes are a very recent phenomenon, and they weren't driven by consumer demand; they were driven by soda companies wanting more money. You can hardly find a 12oz soda anywhere these days, and that was the standard soda size for most of the 20th century. Buying a giant coke at a movie theater barely even qualifies as a conscious choice. I'd really like to hear a reasoned stance on why someone truly requires a 30oz Coke, because, like popcorn, most of it gets thrown out anyway. And what did they do at the movies in the decades before the giant cup's invention? Was their thirst so unquenched that they went back for more? Somehow I doubt it.

If this were the banning of substance, I'd have fear for my liberties. But it's not a ban on soda, just a ban on a particular type of convenience in certain places.

The Dish is with this reader:

This discussion really hits home. I have a degree in Public Health and have worked in the field for years, but I'm also a fervent believer in an individual's right to sin, even if it drives up our insurance premiums. Obesity, along with smoking, drinking, and sex are all big risk factors for things like diabetes, lung cancer, liver cirrosis, HIV, and a whole lot of fun.

I sometimes get the feeling from some of my public health colleagues that they'd pass laws and run public service announcements against dancing and swearing if they could. Public health is filled with the same stock as the prohibitionists of an earlier era – generally upper-crust, well-meaning, hyperrational, and utterly uninterested in everyone else's right to a good time. 

Still, I'm a true believer in the importance of positive public health outcomes. Reducing obesity reduces suffering. It saves everyone a ton of money too. It's the means to the end that piss me off, and the smug ethic behind them. I just can't abide by laws that restrict a person's right to a salty meal or a Super Big Gulp. I don't think it's especially effective public policy, and more importantly, it reeks of a patrician morality that goes against my every fiber as a free-thinking individual.

Instead of banning soft drinks, how about simply warning people of the real risks behind a 44 oz Sprite? How about a few celebrities getting on TV telling people that ordering a small is sexy? Or working on school curricula? Or a little guerrilla marketing? How about coming up with a clever pitch and putting it on a few billboards? There are any number of effective (even fun) alternatives to a blanket ban on big drinks.

Public health is mostly about behavior change, but the law is the crudest instrument for changing people's minds. If New York wants to reduce obesity they should forget about City Hall and turn to Madison Avenue – the real behavior-change professionals.