New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban supersized sugary drinks has been dealt a setback by the State’s Supreme Court, and while some believe it’s a good idea to control obesity, others find it falls under the category of too much government intervention.
Most would agree we have a problem with obesity, especially among America’s youth, but is getting the government involved in our personal choices a good idea? A Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge doesn’t think it’s a good idea and has stopped the ban from going into effect.
Justice Milton A. Tingling struck down the initiative earlier this week that would limit sales of sugary drinks to 16 ounces. Tingling said the administration would be creating a “leviathan,” that would be arbitrary to enforce and oversee.
Tingling seems to feel the deal is unfair because it applies to certain sugary drinks while leaving others alone and applies to restaurants and delis but not to other shops like convenient stores. According to a New York Times story, the judge wrote the ban would bring about “uneven enforcement, even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole.”
It is unclear at this time whether or not the decision will be appealed, but many in academic circles believe the idea of nudging people into controlling their weight is a good means to an end.
Director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics Dr. Kevin Volpp said, “It’s both a nudge in terms of making it less convenient, but it’s also implicitly a tax by raising the relative cost of an ounce of soda.”
Volpp understands the opposition to the ban on limiting choices because it raises the question of where it stops. Other foods such as potato chips could come under attack. Nevertheless, Volpp and others believe incentives can help people lose weight.
During a National Public Radio interview, Dr. Steve Driver of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. indicated he believes incentives work. A study done with some Mayo Clinic employees rewards those who lose weight while posing penalties for those who do not.
The Mayo Clinic study set a goal of losing 4 pounds a month. Those who failed to lose paid $20 and those who succeeded received $20 when the study ended. “People say that if they stuck with it, they had a chance at winning more than they had lost,” Driver said.
But while incentives such as bans and rewards may force people to change their health habits, is it fair?
Consumer rights activists call bans and incentives to change an “attack” on people’s liberty. There is also a financial aspect to consider. The sugary drink ban raises the price by forcing people who want a 32-ounce drink to buy 2 16-ounce drinks. Menus in restaurants have to be changed and employees trained. We eat plenty of foods each day that scientists say, at one time or another, are not good for us. Shouldn’t we ban portions of red meat and candy bars as well as soft drinks?
People will usually resist change and will always resist a change that’s being forced upon them. Instead of using scientists and politicians to force change upon people, it would perhaps be a better idea to educate the populace so they bring about their own changes.
The idea of preventing our neighbor from self-destructive behavior sounds good, but we have to remember people have free will and a right to choose for themselves. Bloomberg’s heart may be in the right place with the soda ban, but his method is heavy handed.