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A hiccup in the ban on big sugary drinks

photo: Dan McKay via Flickr

Even though we all know consuming mass quantities of calorie-laden foods and beverages are bad for us, Americans still can’t seem to stay away from those big sugary drinks.

Last May, in an effort to combat sugar-sweeted beverages (SSBs), New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced one of the most ambitious and controversial initiatives to be seen in the war on obesity: a ban on big sugary drinks, otherwise referred to as the “soda ban.”

On the surface, banning SSBs may seem a logical direction to take in fighting obesity. If people aren’t choosing to drop the bubbly habit themselves, policy changes could simply force people to adopt healthy habits, right?  After all, it’s already been attempted with tobacco products.

When it comes to SSBs it might not be so simple.

Flash forward to this week. Justice Milton A. Tingling, Jr., of the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan struck down the soda ban, calling the limits “arbitrary and capricious,” according to The New York Times.

Though the judge felt the rules were unenforceable with confusing loopholes, his ruling also returned focus to an original point of soda ban opponents: why was soda the victim and not any other calorie culprit? Is soda really as evil as it is made out to be?

“Sodas and SSBs have not been definitively linked to obesity or mortality,” said Mark Pereira, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Pereira voiced his opinion of the soda ban in a CNN commentary last year. “While SSBs are associated with obesity in observational studies, the same can be said for myriad other food items sold in large calorie-dense portions.”

Pereira explained that studies have revealed inconsistent results on the effect of SSBs on human body weight, falling short of supporting SSB’s direct effect on a person’s obesity risk.

The most effective approaches to treating and preventing obesity are multifactorial and must take into account and address the full gamut of dietary trends including:

  • Eating behavior and context
  • Social support
  • Family structure
  • Environmental stimuli

Still, these types of obesity interventions are quite costly and offer limited results for the average overweight person. The reason being, our environment, society and sedentary lifestyle are a perfect recipe for storing excess fat.

Given its extreme complexity, what can the average person do to keep from slipping into the overweight or obese category?

Simple and to the point, Pereira says, “people should increase physical activity and eat a prudent diet.”

Find ways to add activity into your daily routine, decrease time spent in sedentary behaviors (sitting on the couch or at your desk) and replacing that sedentary time with physical activity.

A prudent diet, based on a wealth of scientific evidence, has many hallmark characteristics and – to Bloomberg’s credit – little or no sugar-sweetened beverages is one of many characteristic of such a diet.

As Pereira has heard it said, “obesity is not rocket science, it is more complicated than that.”

So, while Bloomberg’s lawyers continue to fight for the soda ban, you and I can take baby steps towards a healthier lifestyle by taking the stairs, snacking on nuts instead of chips and saying yes to dairy and whole grains.

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