Does there exist a person in the United States who does not know that carbonated sugary beverages are bad for you? I have before mocked (and will again mock) busybody New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who feels the people who voted for him are too stupid to understand this or to limit their consumption of the fizzy poisons without the help of the full legal machinery of the nation's largest city. I would agree that people who voted for Mayor Bloomberg appear to lack a little in the ol' attic, but I don't believe they're quite that dumb.
At the recent meeting of the Obesity Society, where scientists and physicians gather to discuss developments in studying, explaining and treating obesity, the keynote address was about these carbonated sugary beverages, or soda. It was actually a debate about how to deal with the amount of soda people drink. Although the article is long, it has a number of interesting points.
Among them is the fact that a lot of time, the study results that gain the biggest headlines are not the end results of the study, but intermediate ones. One was designed to see what kind of effect a reduction in soda would have for obese children after two years. Two groups of children were monitored after their activity level was increased and their diet changed. One group was also restricted on its soda intake. After one year, that group had improved much more than the other. That drew and draws a lot of attention. But after two years, the original time period of the study, the difference had diminished to almost nothing; both groups had reduced their body mass index about equally. That fact hasn't drawn as much attention.
The article's author notes that most of the anti-soda henpecking (my term, not his) doesn't address a central issue about why people drink it. Most people know that too much soda is bad for them. And yet they drink it -- why? Because they like it. Unless the thing people like doing hurts someone else -- like driving drunk or breaking into stores to steal television sets -- it's hard to see what business it is of the government's to regulate it.
In some other cases, people's preference to engage in health-risking behavior does put other folks at risk. The dangers of secondhand smoke may not be completely proven and they are certainly less than those for smokers, but there's enough indication that somebody else's exhaled tar puts you at risk that the need to regulate smoking in enclosed public spaces is there.
One argument for limiting or even banning sugary sodas is that folks who become obese have worse health, and their worse health drives up everybody's health costs and insurance premiums. Perhaps. But getting old doesn't do anybody's health any favors either. It might even cost more than obesity, since everyone tends to get old and not everyone (yet) tends to get fat. But if there's some kind of plan to go full Logan's Run in order to solve this problem, I haven't heard of it.
I do think there's a government responsibility in matters like these -- I'm not full-out libertarian (Yet. Although I'm working on the cranky part). But I think that responsibility is to investigate the effects of, in this instance, sugary carbonated beverages and tell people what happens when they drink them or drink too much of them. And there it stops. If an insurance company or a doctor wants to penalize a soda drinker with higher rates, so be it. If a dentist wants to offer people who damage their teeth with too much sugar a reduced rate (something like a frequent filler program) figuring they'll make up the difference in volume, so be it.
Because no matter what rules, nagging, hectoring, programs and what have you the screaming furies of wellness perched in city halls, state houses and federal regulatory agences come up with, some people are always going to like to have a Coke and a smile.