Should Bloomberg Ban Sugary Drinks?

Megan Rosker believes the sugary drink ban in New York City could help prevent childhood obesity.

By now many of us have probably heard the news: New York City Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, plans a ban on a sugary  drinks larger than 16oz. The story was carried in full in yesterday’s New York Times. You can read it here.

This morning while cruising news sites and blogs I ran across this article by Café Mom regarding this hot new controversy in New York City.  I have heard her argument echoed over the internet and by friends repeatedly since this story broke yesterday—Americans have the right to be fat. The government shouldn’t regulate our personal choices. We are free citizens.

Really? We are free of influence over what we eat, what we wear, what music we listen to? Last time I checked companies hired and paid millions to ad agencies that would manipulate our thinking, taking away our freedom of choice and leaving us with the feeling that using their product was the only thing that would make us feel happy, safe, relaxed, energized, etc. The point of a good ad campaign is to eliminate this feeling of choice.

Many, many millions of these sugary beverages are served up to kids. The ads show kids and families drinking them, they show athletes that our kids revere consuming them and they put their favorite cartoon characters on the side of the bottle. Of course a child is going to be influenced to want to buy that beverage. We have a responsibility as parents and advocates to keep our kids safe from things that harm them. If we aren’t going to do that job, then the government has every right to protect future generations from an epidemic of obesity that could cause serious health problems and reduce the lifespan of our younger generations. Quite frankly we don’t have the money to fund the health problems of an obese nation. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, “What’s a rabbit to do?”

To advocate that a culture of children has a right to be fat is inhumane. Ask any neuroscientist and  they will tell you that children and teens don’t have the reasoning capabilities of  adults. In fact this is exactly why teens often do really stupid things that we shake our heads at, like sneaking out at 3am or riding their skateboard down the middle of a busy road.  This is why children have parents, to help them make the safest choices possible to stay healthy.  If we go along with the logic of Café Mom, our kids also have a right to get cirrhosis of the liver, drive on the Audobon at age 9 and smoke a pack day and die of lung cancer at the ripe old age of sixteen. But we have outlawed these behaviors and products because, as parents and as a society we know they aren’t safe for our kids.  These are not responsible behaviors that will help create a generation of children that is happy and healthy. It also won’t foster an innovative, forward thinking society.

This law is a gesture to give our children a chance at freedom, the freedom to move their bodies. To run, play and jump instead of being jailed in a body inhibited by obesity. It’s our responsibility to protect our kids. If we let commercialism win this time, we are making the statement that we care more for our money than we do for our children.

Of course I agree with all my friends and fellow advocates that the best way to make consumers free is to educate them on their choices, but until our educational system has the same resources as a private ad agency, then it’s naïve to think people would be able make well informed decisions.

So while I understand that it’s fun to roll up to the Piggly Wiggly and slurp down a 32oz soda on a hot day, it’s time we start thinking larger than our need for instant gratification. We have a health problem, an epidemic.  It justifies action on the part of citizens and our government.

What do you think of Mayor Bloomberg’s sugary drink ban? Should it be limited just to serving sugary drinks to children, or to everyone? 

Image of soda with ice courtesy of Shutterstock 
About Megan Rosker

Megan Rosker is the mom of three young children, a former teacher and ed and play advocate. She writes about how to change education and the culture of childhood in America. Her advocacy has been featured in the New York Times and she is the recent recipient of the Daily Points of Light Award.


  1. I think “mandatory” anything is the one way guaranteed to make people hate and resent the thing being mandated. Most people hate smothering authority. I’ll listen to someone who tries to convince me, respectfully and as an equal, to do something. If they think they can “make” me do anything, not only will I go out of my way to prove them wrong, but they’ll be my enemy for life. There’s an entire class of busybodies who need to be smacked on the nose with a newspaper and told, in no uncertain terms, to tend to their knitting.

  2. I’d take the route of not subsidizing HFCS — or any other form of agribusiness — in the first place. That means no subsidized Interstates for long-distance shipping, and no subsidized cheap irrigation water from dams to plantation farms in Califormia, without which big agribusiness could no longer compete with community-supported agriculture. Instead of regulating an industry that only exists because it’s propped up by the government, why not just stop propping it up?

  3. The arguments for government “helping” those of us who supposedly can’t make a rational choice on our own sound remarkably like the professed rationale of transvaginal ultrasound advocates. And I remind you that we live in a country where the primary influence on things like the USDA food pyramid, agriculture policy and food labeling law comes from corporate agribusiness. Anyone who trusts government to consistently “do the right thing” or act “in the public interest” with such powers is hopelessly naive.

    • John Schtoll says:

      Kevin: your post posited a question in me

      “Would the author of this article have been as adamant about the ban if only women/girls were the ones being restricted”

  4. bttf4444 says:

    The government should stay out of our bedrooms *and* out of our kitchens!

  5. Oh c’mon, you didn’t have to write an entire article if all you’re going to say is FOR THE CHEEEELDREEEENNNNNNNN.

    Even so, the ban isn’t limited by age like your other examples like cigarettes and driving. At least use halfway-valid analogies, please.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I agree. If the goal is to protect children, then put an age restriction on the big sodas. Banning something for everyone so that children can’t get it is overkill.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    Paraphrasing an earlier comment: It’s unrealistic to talk about consumers having a free choice, because our choices are already determined by advertising anyway, so there’s no real choice being taken away.

    This is how totalitarianism creeps up on you. Notice how this suggests that there really is no individual choice going on. Therefore, no one should mind one powerful institution restricting choice in the name of health, not when it’s simply taking over from another powerful institution driven by profit. The implication here is that we shouldn’t worry about losing individual power over ourselves, because we never really had it. It’s the classic Mussolini argument – you’ve always been controlled by a small group of people, but at least I admit I’m a dictator, unlike those people disguised as democratic leaders.

    Paraphrasing another comment: There is no such thing as a right to drink as much soda as you want.

    Notice how this makes your right so specific as to sound absurd. Note that the onus is now on you, the individual, to explain why you have a particular freedom at all. I say that freedom should be the default setting, that you have liberty unless there is a compelling reason to restrict it. I say you should not just let the government restrict your choices for your own good and only have freedom if you can convince the government to stop. The burden of argument is on those restricting freedom, not on those trying to hang onto it.

    Unless we really are saying that your body does not fully belong to you but belongs in part to the government. Quite a chilling prospect.

  7. wellokaythen says:

    Banning large-size sodas may indeed make a difference in obesity rates. Let’s say that it would. We’re still talking about laws restricting individual choice in the name of public health, as if my body belongs to society and not to me. I can’t give anyone second-hand obesity because of the soda that I drink. This is one of times where I say “keep your laws off my body.”

    I’ll go straight to the totally extreme slippery slope argument. You know who else was obsessive about the health of their nation and willing to use government agencies to restrict individual choices? The Nazis. In their own twisted way, they were perhaps the most obsessed about public health of any government that ever existed. Totalitarianism is very appealing when it’s presented in the name of a healthy society. Who would be in favor of individual choice when such a choice could be bad for you?

    I haven’t read the details of the Bloomberg proposal. What’s to prevent you from buying two smaller drinks instead of one larger one?

  8. “Of course I agree with all my friends and fellow advocates that the best way to make consumers free is to educate them on their choices, but until our educational system has the same resources as a private ad agency, then it’s naïve to think people would be able make well informed decisions.”

    Seriously? This fallacy AGAIN?

    Time and again we can demonstrate that all the ad money in the world cannot make someone do something that they just don’t want to do. Microsoft Bob (remember that, from 1995?) was a huge failure despite tons of advertising. Meg Whitman outspent Jerry Brown by literally 5-to-1, yet Jerry Brown still won the election. GM advertises the Volt more than any of its other models, yet sales were so slow that they had to halt production in March.

    Advertising dollars NEVER directly translate into consumption. The consumer has to actually WANT the product in order for consumption to take place.

    The fact remains that we are very bad at giving messages to children. We want to cut down on sugary drinks to reduce childhood obesity, yet the Gods of Political Correctness will never let us tell children directly that obesity is bad, lest someone’s feelings get hurt. We need to seriously think about what it means to “spare feelings” when we are looking at legitimate public health goals. There’s no need to be callous, but there is a need to be upfront. All body shapes are not actually healthy.

    • Mike L, where do you get your statistics to support the claim that advertising dollars “NEVER” directly translate into consumption? It doesn’t look like that in real life. Your carefully culled examples notwithstanding, the winning candidate in an election usually outspends the competition, and the most heavily advertised products are also consumed in high enough quantities to justify the expense. And how many times have I wanted a product and it hasn’t been available in the marketplace? Plenty. I don’t want a giant Coke. I want a grass-fed burger on an unbleached bun.
      The fallacy is in pretending that we all have limitless choice. In reality, we have very limited choices that are defined by the marketplace. There may be hundreds of kinds of restaurants in the US, but if you work in an industrial park and have a 30 minute lunch, your options are what’s close and cheap. If you live more than 20 miles from a quality grocery store, you probably won’t shop there, and will live on what is sold at the closest grocery. Thirteen kinds of snack chips looks like choice, but it’s artificial. GM doesn’t offer me a car that runs on stale bread. The food that is most available is crap. That’s why people are getting fatter: they’re eating terrible food that leaves them still craving nutrition. It’s also no accident that the people who are suffering the most from diseases of malnutrition (like diabetes, heart disease, poor cardiovascular health) are the poorest. They have the worst food options, the least money to spend on them, and live with the most pollutants, in the least walkable places. They don’t choose all of these things. We live in our environments.

    • So you’re living in some parallell dimension where kids aren’t told that it’s bad to be fat?

      • Justin,

        No offense, but it’s sort of hilarious that you challenge my statistics without offering any actual statistics of your own.

        Economists have studied a causal relationship between advertising and consumption for years, and the conclusion has consistently been that the one cannot unilaterally cause the other.

        Most recently Levitt demonstrated that the relationship between political spending and election outcomes had the results backwards: popular politicians attract more contributions, meaning that contributions predict votes, rather than spending causing votes. We can see this by comparing Barack Obama’s campaign spending against Meg Whitman’s. Both Obama and Whitman outspent their opponents, but one did so through a greater number of contributions, while the other financed her own campaign. The end result was predictable. Levitt’s paper looks at MANY elections and this is almost always the case.

        But this applies even without politics. In their paper in the Southern Economic Journal back in the 1990s, Jung and Seldon reviewed 30 years worth of research and found, over and over, that prices had a much larger impact on consumption than advertising (go figure, we want things cheaply, not because they’ve been advertised). The effect of advertising was so weak that most researchers rejected the effect all together as not statistically significant.

        The one time advertising has been found to be effective, as demonstrated by Ramos, and then in a separate paper by Marttin, is when advertising directly sells to the consumer by claiming lower prices! This merely confirms what economists had found years earlier: it is always going to be about price. We have to want to consume (usually because of lower prices) in order for advertising to ever be effective.

        But I strongly suggest this will all be ignored by you. Go ahead and believe what you want, I’ll stick with research.

        • Whoops, obviously that was supposed to be in response to Justin.

          In response to Dvärghundspossen,

          I don’t know where you grew up, or what messages you were given. I do know that from middle school forward I was told REPEATEDLY, usually in health class, that fat does not mean unhealthy.

          When I took courses as an undergrad, this was backed by the “Health at Every Size” campaign which forces this message very hard.

          However, there was no real distinction between “overweight” and “obese” in these messages and these campaigns, so reality was usually lost. We were told that you could be “healthy” at every size, because you don’t need to be “skinny” to be healthy. This is only partly true. You can definitely be “not skinny” and healthy. But it’s very hard to be obese and healthy, and telling people otherwise (as I was told in Middle School, High School, and Undergrad) is misleading and dangerous.

          • Well, I had an obese friend growing up. I don’t think she was told officially from school that being fat is bad, but she hated her fat so much that she said (later in life) that she often whished she had the courage to just take a knife and cut off the love handles and her big belly.

            I think it’s pretty rare for kids to be perfectly okay with being fat. And I don’t think self-hatred has ever made anybody lose weight. Serving healthy food in school, not having candy machines or soda machines in school, having like mandatory long walks everyday or stuff like that – all that I could buy as methods to combat childhood obesity. Telling kids that fat is bad – no way that’s gonna help. Even if you grew up being told that being fat is okay I dare say that’s not the experience of the majority of fat people out there. And they’re still fat.

    • S_Morlowe says:

      Then why not go the route of so many other Western countries and limit advertising to children? Kids aren’t buying these: parents are, for whatever reason, good or bad. Where I live (in Ireland) there are a lot of restrictions on what foods can be advertised to the under 12 age-group (as well as what toys, etc) and I know that we are by no means the strictest country.

      I don’t know about all bodies being healthy, but there is definitely an unhealthy reliance on general statistics as infallible (coughBMIcough) and not enough credence given to individuals.

  9. GirlGlad4TheGMP says:

    It’s a farce that, with all the problems facing the U.S. today that could be helped by political intervention, the size of (specifically, not the altogether removal of) sugared drinks requires mayoral attention.

  10. Eric M. says:

    Yeah, it’s oddly random. How does he expect us to eat our half pounders with bacon and cheese and large fries with just s 16 oz. soda?

  11. Another example of goverment putting their hand in where it simply doesn’t belong. It’s these insideous, supposedly well-meaning laws that are the most dangerous to American Freedom. Yes, child obesity is a problem. No, it will not be solved through banning any kind of sugary treat. Today Soda, tomorrow candy bars, the next day, who knows. Then when they see it isn’t working, they will begin to bring in extra taxes for their coffers.

  12. The warring forces of capitalism and puritanism in America are banning sugary soft drinks in one place, while opening casinos in another. They’ve driven tobacco farmers nearly out of business with taxes, but illegal drug crops replace it as a cash crop, tax-free. Violent video games provide ever gorier and more realistic depictions of war and street crime, while classrooms are required to teach less and less of what is both real and discomfiting.

    Yeah, we’ve got problems, but the 99oz ain’t one. If you can’t get your Crisco fix in a fast food joint, you can always make it at home, and if 32oz isn’t enough soda for you, then buy two or five. Free country and all.

  13. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    We have a responsibility as parents and advocates to keep our kids safe from things that harm them. If we aren’t going to do that job, then the government has every right to protect future generations from an epidemic of obesity that could cause serious health problems and reduce the lifespan of our younger generations.

    No. No, it doesn’t. That is just something you have made up. Just saying that government has the right to do anything and everything you want so that you can stick your nose into everyone else’s business does not make it so.

    Furthermore, this is not banning certain sizes of certain drinks for children only. This is the classic nanny state banning adult behavior. The analogy of government as parent for adults is offensive and degrading.

  14. John Schtoll says:

    BTW, if you want to eliminate childhood obesity , how about mandatory physical education, you have to maintain a certain BMI to graduate from highschool, college and University.

    • “maintain a certain BMI to graduate from highschool, college and University.” That’s just…. TERRIBLE.

      I’m not speaking in my own defence here, since 1) I’ve always been skinny, and b) I’m not American anyway. But the idea that fat people shouldn’t be allowed to GRADUATE? That’s ABSURD! How on Earth is that gonna help people?

      Fat people KNOW it’s bad to be fat. They KNOW that lots of people hate them for being fat. They already WANT to be thin. How on Earth are a ban from graduating gonna help them get any thinner?

      If all school children were to take a mandatory one hour walk each day or something like that, that I could buy. But grades should solely depend on your academic achievements, not on the way you look.

      • John Schtoll says:

        @Dvar: Sorry I forgot to put a /sarcasm at the end of that.

        My point was that banning a product because it is bad for kids is even sillier, consider this MY silly idea is actually better for kids than banning soft drinks. Does that make my idea automatically better. I doubt it.

      • GirlGlad4TheGMP says:

        Besides, the impoverished are more likely to eat cheap, readily available and highly unhealthy fast food…so that’s counter-intuitive.

  15. John Schtoll says:

    I am sorry Megan but ad campaigns don’t remove our freedom of choice, yes, they ‘stear’ us towards a product but come on, we are adults, we make good choices, we make bad choices but at least we have those choices, this new law removes this completely.

    BTW, is the government also going to take away all our bad choices, alcohol, tobacco, gambling. Those 3 bad choices do WAY more harm than sugar. Oh wait, hold on, those 3 choices bring in tons of tax revenue, so the government won’t ban those. And it also appears the sugar lobby doesn’t have as much money as the those 3 there.

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