For several years, there has been an increasing amount of attention paid to foods that have been deemed “bad” for you due to the rising rate of obesity in this country. In this time period, soda and other sugary drinks have steadily climbed their way to becoming Public Enemy #1. The sale of the soft drink has already been banned in many schools across the country.
Last week, New York City Michael Bloomberg proposed yet another measure attempting to ban or curb sales of the soft drink. Bloomberg introduced plans that would ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces around the city.
The proposed ban would not extend to the sale of larger bottles or cartons that are sold in stores. It would affect the sales of sugary drinks in other locations though, including restaurants, movie theaters, sporting and other events and select other venues.
While it is nice to see attention paid towards the nation’s health and an effort to turn it around, Bloomberg’s plan, along with others like it, is shortsighted and ineffective. It is very easy to place the blame for health issues in the nation on a single popular food or beverage item. But that does not properly address the real issue, which is complex and does not have a simple answer like banning the sales of food or beverages in different locations.
Here’s the thing: Most plans to ban the sale of food or drink items out of concern for the health of others act as though people do not realize the item is not the healthiest choice, or that people cannot get it elsewhere. The reality is that most people are entirely aware of how healthy or not their choices are and choose to get it regardless. People can also go out and buy the “banned” item elsewhere if they choose; banning sales in some places does not curb consumption, it merely pushes people to buy elsewhere.
And really, the select few foods or drinks banned from being sold in a handful of locations are not the main villain in the nation’s ongoing health crisis.
The real problem is caused by a combination of many factors including portion sizes in restaurants, misconceptions about what proper portions are, prices and availability of healthy foods, and a general lack of knowledge about what is and what is not actually healthy.
Maybe, instead of trying to ban this item and that item, we could refocus that time and energy into offering real solutions to the issue.
A great starting point would be educating people from an early age about what exactly constitutes healthy eating, appropriate portion sizes, and so on. It is easy to chastise people for choosing poor food options, but when something unhealthy is touted as being healthy, it is easy to see why there is so much confusion.
As it is, most public schools already offer health classes that as part of the curriculum. Why not take some time in these classes to start teaching students about a healthy diet instead of teaching the exact same thing each year?
In colleges and universities, students are usually given general course requirements unrelated to their majors but as a part of earning their degree. For most students, these random courses often have little educational value as they are not relevant to their lives or interests. Replacing just one of these mandated classes with a mandatory course in nutrition could have a far greater benefit than forcing an English major to take a course in physics, for example.
Along with education, something needs to be done to make healthier food options more accessible to everyone. Politicians, doctors, nutritionists and other experts can talk all they want about the nation’s health, but until healthy options are available to the masses, things are not really going to change.
The fact of the matter is that for some people buying frozen, precooked, processed food is more affordable and accessible than buying the fresh counterpart. It’s easy to criticize people who survive on a steady diet of fast food, frozen dinners and the like. But it not at all surprising that this happens when feeding a family of four on a budget is far cheaper this way. People of all incomes should have access to fresh, healthy and affordable food choices.
Proposal’s like Bloomberg’s plan to ban sugary drinks might have the right idea – improving the health of this country. But no approach to curbing the rising rate of obesity will really have an effect until all of the factors and all of the problems are evaluated and real solutions are proposed.