A few weeks ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost a court battle to ban extra-large, “big gulp,” sugary drinks in New York City. Some commentators hailed it as a win for individual freedom and choice, including the woman set to become the next Mayor.
Mayor Bloomberg still has the opportunity of a lifetime to begin and fund a movement to promote a healthy lifestyle and address obesity, particularly in children and teenagers. Not one penny of government money should be required.
For starters, a new discussion aimed at promoting a healthy diet is in order. Emphasizing a positive new paradigm, while harder, will in the long run prevail over criticizing a way of life that is stubbornly clinging on. Or, to put it another way, when a young child is told not to do something what usually happens?
Here are some serious facts to consider. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has data that shows in the last 30 years, obesity has tripled for adolescents and doubled for children. The effects of this explosion are ominous to say the least. Short term problems for obese kids included an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease — the CDC found in a sample population of kids age 5-17, that 70% already had one warning sign of heart disease. Another immediate risk is pre-diabetes, a condition where high blood sugar can lead to diabetes. Finally, obesity in young people can result in bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and a host of social and psychological challenges. Here is the article for you to read, along with a number of links that provide even more information:
Long term these early warning signs manifest into increased odds for cancers, heart disease, and a host of life-shortening illnesses and disease. And yet, we focus on the size of a Big Gulp. The size of the sugary drink totally misses the point. Processed foods with high fructose corn syrup, msg (often disguised as naturally occurring yeast on labels), and a host of other bad stuff is in so many foods that we eat — from tomato sauce to ketchup to salad dressings. So even when schools think they are serving kids a healthy meal at lunch, they are not! Even juice in boxes or bottles is crap!
I encourage everyone to read labels. It is the only fool-proof way to double check. But here is an easy rule of thumb: if the product is cheap, the odds that it has junk in it are super high. Paul Newman’s food is one of the few that seems to violate this rule, but I still have not read all the labels yet!
The proliferation of fast food places — from McDonalds to Subway and beyond — is another symptom of even a more worrisome trend. People are just not cooking at home like they used to. The first line of defense of controlling what goes into our body has become a lost art. And to blame it on time constraints is a major cop-out.
There are so many out of order factors that it is no wonder that so many kids and adolescents have an unhealthy diet. That is why focusing on Big Gulps is small ball. What we need is something much more dramatic and interrelated. Schools should have classes that teach nutrition, yoga, mediation, and the benefits of juicing fresh vegetables and fruit. What about having a juicing or smoothie station at school? I bet a properly educated child will have a major impact at home. It is all about learning balance.
The costs to the private and public sector for staying our unhealthy eating course is astronomical. The current battle over the expenses associated with the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) will pale in comparison. There is a tsunami-type wave of heart, cancers, diabetes, and a host of other obesity-related illnesses and diseases on the way. The warning signs are all in place, yet society remains stuck.
Having access to good healthy food is a necessity for our society. And truly, it is a challenge that reeks of a private sector solution — from companies to private individuals to being more informed to the choices made right at home. More regulations are not the answer. I am personally going to start listing products and companies who seem to care more about profit than health with the products they sell at grocery stores.
Mayor Bloomberg, and other wealthy Americans, have the financial resources to shape a legacy that extends way beyond the Big Gulp debate.
But will they?