Yesterday, the New York City Board of Health held a hearing on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the sale of certain-sized sugary beverages and soda. Mayor Bloomberg believes this measure will reduce obesity in the city and, somewhat shockingly, as much as 52 percent of New Yorkers approve of his attempt to control what they drink.
But will Bloomberg’s move against soda do anything to improve the health of New Yorkers? Not if the results of a new Gallup poll are to be believed.
According to Gallup’s Consumption Habits poll released this week, 48 percent of Americans drink at least one glass of soda per day, with the remaining 52 percent saying they do not drink soda at all on the average day. Among the 48 percent of those who do drink soda, only 20 percent (that comes to 9.6 percent of all Americans) said they drank two or more glasses of soda per day.
Yet Gallup also found that those who frequently drank soda were no heavier than those who avoided soda altogether — a direct strike against Bloomberg’s many claims that soda consumption drives obesity:
There is essentially no difference in the self-reported weight situation of Americans who drink two or more glasses of soda compared with those who drink none: About four in 10 of each group says they are either very or somewhat overweight. Those who drink one soda per day are slightly more likely to classify themselves as overweight. This might be explained by heavier soda drinkers consuming more diet soda than those who drink only one soda per day; however, the current survey question did not specify the type of soda consumed.
Given this new Gallup data, it’s clear there isn’t some sort of epidemic of soda consumption in America. In fact, a tiny minority of individuals make up the Big Gulp demographic — ostensibly the target of Bloomberg’s nonsensical regulation. So, just who are these soda drinkers? Writing in The Daily Beast just after Bloomberg announced his ban, Trevor Butterworth examined these “super consumers” who appear to be, not surprisingly, teenage boys:
Take a fairly recent and staggering study, which asked the following obvious question: how much soda do teenagers consume? To do this, the researchers analyzed dietary data from the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the periods 1988 to 1994 and 1999 to 2004, which covered thousands of kids. The results showed that the majority of kids were low to moderate consumers of sugared drinks, but that the top 20 percent of adolescent males were super-consumers, chugging up to 193.6 ounces a day, the equivalent of 16 cans of soda (the mean for this top quintile was a more comprehensible 57 ounces).
Teenage boys do a lot of things adults wouldn’t do. They behave in risky ways; they eat a lot of junk food and rarely let a vegetable pass their lips. Teenage boys (and increasingly girls) generally behave in ways most adults would find embarrassing. But boys grow up, they begin to think about their health and mortality and they start making different (and better) food and beverage decisions. In time, these former teenage boys begin to drink less soda and more water. What else would explain the fact that water sales are at record highs in this country while soda sales are down 12 percent in the past decade?
Mayor Bloomberg’s sugary drink proposal is folly — the folly of a politician woefully out of touch with reality and with a God complex so big that it eclipses his interest in finding real public-policy solutions to obesity (if there are any!). Bloomberg’s insistence on developing an anti-obesity program based on the behavior of teenage boys, and his refusal to consider the real data on this issue, isn’t surprising for those who follow his penchant for food nannying, but it should be an outrage to New Yorkers.
New York City now has an unemployment rate of 10 percent and a tax burden so high that residents are leaving the city (and state) by the thousands. The city has terrible traffic and transportation problems and a housing shortage so acute that there is serious talk of developing micro-apartment complexes.
When problems like these loom large on New York City’s horizon, maybe it’s time that New Yorkers assess their mayor’s policy priorities and wonder if Big Gulps really deserve top billing.
— Julie Gunlock is the Director of IWF’s Women for Food Freedom project.