Press-Republican

April 10, 2013

In My Opinion: American way or American waist?

By JORUNN GRAN-HENRIKSEN
Press-Republican

---- — How will the saga about New York City soda size end, and why should we care?

Earlier this year, the New York City Health Board approved restricting serving sizes to a maximum 16 ounces for soda and other high-sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants and major sports events.

This regulation translates into denying your serving size to less than about 20 to 22 teaspoons sugar at a time. Your right for a supersized bargain is denied in a country known for freedom.

The “soda ban” was supposed to start last month but was rejected by a judge and continues in the courts.

Is the restriction on container size a good thing? No, according to the American Beverage Association, the National Restaurant Association and other businesses, which sued to block the 16-ounce restriction. Yes, according to public-health officials, who last week appealed the court’s decision ruling against the ban.

Is it our personal right, is it unfair, or is it a well-meaning public-health measure? Should we care what the Big Apple does? Will these limitations eventually branch out to the North Country?

Studies show that soda drinkers tend to consume more calories and that liquid calories do not fill us up the same way that food does. Additionally, we tend to eat or drink more as the serving sizes increase. We try to finish what is served.

As a nation, our interpretation of a serving size is increasing with our waistline. A regular soda a few decades ago is now so small it is hardly available. Even buying a 12-ounce soda in a local convenience store is getting harder; 20-ounce bottles are often the smallest size available. Vending machines are increasingly selling 20-ounce bottles rather than the 12-ounce cans.

Making the consumption of a product less convenient will impact behavior, just like the smoking ban in restaurants did.

Excess soda consumption increases the risk of obesity, which, in turn, affects a person’s health and well-being. Obesity is a major public-health problem and contributes to the skyrocketing cost of health insurance and health care.

Type 2 diabetes is especially linked to excess weight, and almost 25 percent of all health-care cost is spent on diabetes care. Nationwide, 1 in 5 five children is obese, as is 1 in 3 adults. In the North Country, the obesity rate is above the state average. And once you gain the extra pounds, we all know it is hard to get them off.

Because of NYC’s size, it is in a unique position to influence food companies through public policy. It has happened before. Remember trans fats, those that clog our blood vessels and increase risk of heart disease? It was NYC that first banned the use of trans fats in restaurant foods.

After that, other states followed, and manufacturers and restaurants changed their ways. Our entire food supply has drastically reduced the amount of trans fats in foods, thanks in part to NYC Health Board’s 2006 trans-fat vote. We can still enjoy high-fat fast food, just with less trans fats.

Demanding a modification of a product to improve public health is nothing new nor is the opposition to change. Today, we take seat belts and unleaded gas for granted, but reducing lead in gasoline took a long time because of strong industry opposition.

Will restricting soda serving size take care of obesity? No, many strategies are needed. But it is one of many innovative approaches to combat our country’s No. 1 health challenge.

Limiting exposure to super-size soda bargains can be better for both our society and for individuals. Obesity affects all of us, so let’s continue being innovative and open minded. After all, that is also the American way.

Jorunn Gran-Henriksen is a full-time assistant professor in the Department of Nursing and Nutrition at SUNY Plattsburgh.