Hands Off My Sodas, Nanny Government!

Posted on June 4, 2012

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In the latest salvo in the war on obesity, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a limit on sugary drinks served in the city:  16 ounces max.   While I am not the type to drown myself in 64 ounces of soda, this really offends me!   We are a free country, dangit, and we should be allowed to make free choices within reason.  Yes, most of the western world has obesity issues now, but nanny governments directly regulating our choices – whether through taxes, or limits like this one – won’t help.

First, Bloomberg himself notes that people would still be able to consume as much soda as they want; they just would have to buy it 16 ounces at a time.  Well, then, is this really about obesity, or is it about putting more money in the pockets of big business?

Second, sodas are not the only cause, and probably not even a primary cause, of obesity.  Limiting one sugary food type, or even limiting total sugar intake somehow, won’t keep people from getting fat on burgers, or pasta, or rice, or… well, just about any source of calories.  Odd how the Mayor celebrated Donut Day just after his anti-big-soda proposal.  If you’re going to restrict any kind of food in an attempt to whittle people down, you will have to restrict all food.  And obviously, none of this works because people are individuals with differing activity levels, appetites, preferences, access to cooking facilities… given the Standard-Issue Mayor Bloomberg Patented Government Diet, some people would still gain weight, while others would slowly starve.

Sin taxes are no better.    We already have a model in Denmark, which has had a “sin tax” on chocolate and candies for some 90 years, increased taxes on sodas in 1998 and again in 2001, and banned trans fats in 2003.  Here’s the effect all of that has had on Danish obesity rates:  5.5% in 1987, 9.5% in 2000, 11.4% in 2005, and  13.4% in 2010.  Denmark will soon have a tax on fatty foods.  Well, maybe that will do the trick.  Yes, Denmark is still far behind the US obesity rate of about 35.7%, but the fact is, their rate is increasing steadily and the taxes have not helped.

According to the CDC, the 2009-2010 rate was 35.7% among adults.  That is pretty bad, but still, this means 64.3% of American adults are not obese.  Why should those 64.3% have their choices limited, or pay more for things that they enjoy?  Why should responsible, healthy, Bloomberg-approved-BMI adults have their quality of life hampered because other people are fat?  For that matter, why should fat adults be told they can’t enjoy their sodas?  Let them make their own choices.

But hey, if someone lets themselves get super-fat, I am all for making them pay more for things like that extra airplane seat, or the chair they break at the restaurant, the extra wear and tear they put on hotel mattresses, and perhaps a security deposit in case they break the toilet (don’t laugh – we had an obese renter who broke our toilet some years ago).  Eventually, they can pay extra for the oversized gurney, the extra EMT teams needed to haul them out to the ambulance, the super-reinforced operating table, the hernia suffered by the nurse who was trying to turn them over, the double-wide wheelchair, and the extra-wide coffin taking up two grave plots.  I am all for insurance companies hiking their premiums due to the increased risks associated with obesity, just as they hike premiums for smokers or people with pre-existing medical conditions.  I am all for doctors denying them certain elective procedures which are rendered dangerous or ineffective by obesity.

But what’s missing from this equation?  I think there is too little shame in today’s society.  Anything goes, and the Politically Correct thing is to act as if nothing is wrong.  We are not supposed to hurt people’s feelings by calling them fat.  We are not supposed to notice their weight at all, because they are A Nice Person.  I tell you, embarrassment can work wonders.  What if we did charge people extra for the above scenarios… not just in the health-care arena, but in every aspect of life?  Enjoy your huge soda, but we are charging you extra to sit in our chairs.  There is precedent: we already see airlines charging double for those who take up two seats.  XXL clothing often carries a surcharge over regular-sized clothing.

Maybe this seems cruel, but the costs of obesity should fall squarely on the obese, and not on the other 64.3% of us.

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