Battle of the giant sodas

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The Atlantic had an interesting commentary on obesity and mega-sized sugary drinks recently. Both Cambridge and New York are contemplating a ban of super-sized soda and limiting the maximum allowable size at 16 ounces. Predictably, it has set off quite a round of controversy and debate. Should the state regulate what people do to themselves, even if they are not harming others?


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I think that many commenters focus too much on the supposed black and white issue of individual liberty versus state regulation. One commenter remarked that laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets were “insane”, reasoning that if a motorcyclist were to crash, only he would be harmed, therefore, the state has no grounds to regulate his helmet-wearing. I disagree with “analyses” like this because it only considers the immediate consequence. Fact is, we are all intricately and uncomfortably bound up in each other. A simple thought experiment easily reveals that these questions are more grey than black or white.

Suppose a helmet-less motorcyclist were to crash and injure himself. Is he going to then heal himself and clean up his mess? Of course not. An injured motorcyclist is going to consume healthcare and emergency resources – regardless of whether or not he pays for his own healthcare out-of-pocket or through state/work insurance. A surgery room which might have been used for an elective surgery will now be used for his emergency instead. His accident will delay traffic and cause some people to arrive at work late. In the big picture – many such accidents could consume so many resources that insurance goes up for everyone, more money is required to create more healthcare spaces and pay for more doctors and nurses. I could go on, but I hope I made my point.

We are not singular entities that can shrug off the effects of our actions on others. Sometimes the web of effects is small – if I drink too much and have an unproductive day at work, my boss won’t be too pleased but I’m not going to cost the company thousands of dollars. But sometimes, it can be large – a preventable traffic accident does cost thousands of dollars: taxpayer dollars for emergency services, hours of work for commuters who are late, and hours of life for patients whose procedures are delayed for hospitals to deal with these emergencies.

So where does the consumption of sugary sodas fit in? Somewhere in the lower middle of this fuzzy grey scale, I would imagine. Brian cut soda from his diet when we moved in together and he lost 10-15lbs with very little effort! And that’s with almost no other dietary changes – we still eat bacon, drink beer and buy full fat yogurt! (Yum… ) So I certainly agree that sodas are not good for you – but neither are cigarettes or alcohol, and I don’t see anyone trying to limit my consumption of those items. I can go to the liquor store and buy a cart full of alcohol and no one will think twice. Same with cigarettes. I feel it’s kind of hypocritical to attack sodas when other substances have wide-ranging health effects as well. I hate hypocrisy, so I’m going to have to say that I disagree with a ban on super-sized sodas.

I do think that people need to better understand the negative effects of added sugar, however. Many people scoff at sugar consumption, citing the high sugar content of fruit as an example. But naturally occurring sugars and added sugars are quite different. Even though studies on the effects of sugar can be inconclusive, the general recommendation for sugar consumption is up to 30g per day for women and 45g per day for men. Many experts believe that this amount is actually still too high, based on the incidence of cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease and have recommended new guidelines of 20g for women and up to 39g for men, daily. And people’s actual sugar intake? Some studies have pegged it as high as 110g per day! Scary stuff!

I base my intake on approximately 20 grams per day. I think that less sugar can only be better, no matter what the “experts” currently say. When you look at it that way, a 791ml bottle of coke has THREE DAYS worth of sugar in it. That’s crazy! So I think that cutting soda out of your diet is a good thing for your health and your wallet – but it’s not something that should be legislated.

What’s your take on giant sodas?

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Posted in: Food and Grocery, Philosophy

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  1. Ohhh, I have so many things to say on this one! Well written.
    1 – Saw a presentation awhile back on obesity rates and per capita consumption of different goods over a few decades. The only thing that followed the rise was high fructose corn syrup, pretty much exactly (hello giant pops!), not saturated fat, dairy, meat, grains, nothing else presented!
    2 – A part of what you’re describing is called the ripple effect. You get in a car accident and get hurt, who do you call? Your spouse/kids/parents/further family/friends/employer. You’re temporarily off work and limited in mobility, that places strain on someone else to take care of you, someone has to cover your role at work, taking them away from something else, people are upset, everyone at your job, on your sports team, etc etc etc. You may think that it’s only affecting you, but the ripple effect of who it touches is huge, economic implications aside.

    • CF says:

      Aha – you’re right. I knew it was called something (re: ripple effect), but could not get it off the tip of my tongue while I was writing. 🙂

      Where did you see that presentation? I’d like to take a look at it. We’re always trying to learn more about eating healthy. We certainly don’t miss having soda, especially after seeing what a huge difference it made in Brian’s weight.

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