There has been a lot of press over the last couple of days regarding a proposal by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit sugar-added beverages to 16oz in restaurants and arenas. The move is being touted as a method to combat obesity, with the assumption being that, given smaller serving sizes, people will naturally consume less. There is some evidence to back such a claim, with an editorial in today's New York Post highlighting some research into portion sizes:
"As Sarah Kliff notes in The Washington Post, in one noted experiment moviegoers were given their choice of medium or large buckets of stale, week-old popcorn.At the end of the editorial, the writer of the Post story states that while some will reject Bloomberg's proposal as being just another nanny-state intrusion into people's lives, it may well be an idea that's time has come:
Despite the bad taste, those with the large buckets ate 33.6 percent more popcorn — that is, increasing total calorie consumption by a third."
"Fact is, the proposal would not bar free refills or even multiple purchases — it’s meant to discourage, not to ban.Here is my question: Why? Why is it worth a try? But perhaps I should back up just a bit, in order to properly frame the issues surrounding the story. What is at heart here is a piece of demographic data, namely the fact that there are a large proportion of individuals in this country who are obese. This is a statistical fact, and not something that is up for debate. The majority of Americans are overweight, and there is a disturbingly large percentage who are just plain fatasses. Americans eat too much, and what they eat is over-processed and largely unhealthy. Couple this with the overall laziness of the American public at large, and obesity isn't just a problem, it's an inevitability.
And, to be honest, localities around the nation have ended up adopting many of Bloomberg’s health-related initiatives.
We’ve never been fans of coercive government measures. But this one seems less onerous than most.
It’s certainly worth a try."
Now that the premise has been granted (Americans are fat), it's time to take a look at the conclusion. Mayor Bloomberg, along with the writer of the NYP editorial, have drawn the conclusion that since Americans are fat, then something must be done about it. Now, back to my question: Why?
In truth, there are a few reasons why officials believe that government must solve the obesity problem. In many cases, these officials are busybodies who, through some genetic defect, were born without the "it's none of my business" gene, and are never happier than when they are solving someone else's problems. In other cases, officials want to be seen as doing something, because it makes them believe that they are being an effective official. After all, no one gets famous by acting like Calvin Coolidge; in order to build a legacy, you must be an FDR. Never mind that Coolidge was a far better president; it's FDR who gets the most pages in the history books.
However, if you press someone who acts this way for a legitimate reason why, it almost always comes down to public health. People who are obese tend to be sicker, less productive, and incur more health care costs than their thinner counterparts. Therefore, it is in society's best interests if we (and by "we" I mean "government") take active steps to combat the obesity epidemic. And in truth, given our current system, this makes sense. In an America in which no one is held personally responsible for their lifestyles, employers, public venues, and commercial businesses are required to treat fatassery as a disability, and everyone is on the hook for our collective health-care costs, then yes, we must come together and compel certain behaviors because your obesity is my problem. But where some see this as an inevitability, the sane among us reject the premise. It's not the obesity that needs to go away, it's the belief that your poor health choices need to hit my wallet.
I believe that we should let fat people be fat, stupid people be stupid, and lazy people be lazy. And in a world where each individual has to live with the consequences of his or her own actions, while all of these things are unfortunate, none of them needs to be a public policy issue.