Anyone settling down with a cup of coffee and the Sunday edition of the New York Times over the weekend may have noticed something quite odd about the paper. Among the usual full-page ads for luxury goods and investment banks was one featuring Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York. Dressed in a rather frumpy blue skirt and jacket with arms outstretched towards the reader, the doctored image of the mayor was accompanied by a headline that read “The Nanny: You only thought you lived in the land of the free.”
The audacious ad was paid for by The Center for Consumer Freedom – a nonprofit organisation that strives to put the American consumer first – and was of course a response to Bloomberg’s controversial plan to ban the sale of supersize sugary soft drinks in his city. Announced last week, Bloomberg’s ban would prevent the sale of soda and other sugary drinks in cups or bottles larger than 16 fluid ounces – which, in metric terms, is nearly half a litre. In a city where 50 per cent of the adult population is overweight or obese and which spends more than $4 bn (€3.2bn) each year caring for them, Bloomberg’s ban to cut easy access to calorific drinks seems statistically sensible.
However, as this weekend’s ad shows, the idea has many opponents. Of course the billion-dollar soft drink industry isn’t in support of a plan that could eat into their profits. And joining them are libertarian New Yorkers who, fans of large soft drinks or not, are fans of good old American ideals that surround the notion of individual freedom. From the freedom to bear arms or choose your own health insurance to the freedom to purchase a large soft drink at the cinema, personal liberty has always been a political calling card of this republic.
Seeing as 20 per cent of weight increase in the United States between 1977 and 2007 has been attributed to sugary drinks, perhaps New Yorkers should swallow Bloomberg’s ban rather than bucket loads of soda. Over one third of American children are overweight or obese, meaning that for the first time in history, the country may have a generation whose life span is shorter than that of their parents.
I think public officials like Bloomberg should be lauded for an attempt to curb the nation’s obesity problem. Who really needs to consume the 217 grams of sugar that’s inside one of those supersized soft drinks that are in containers so big you need two hands to hold them? If cities across the country imposed similar bans to Bloomberg’s, the United States could make a dent in its deadly and expensive obesity epidemic.
Those who feel their freedoms threatened by such an idea can exercise their free will in buying multiple cups of smaller soft drink servings. And they’re also free to complain when their health insurance costs go up to accommodate the $190 bn (€152.8bn) annually that the United States spends on treating all sorts of diseases that stem from soda-fuelled obesity.