Should the USDA allow states or cities to bar the use of food stamps to purchase soda pop and other sugary drinks? Or perhaps go a step further and enact such a ban itself?
What the heck, why not just enshrine the ban in federal law?
The New York Daily News in a recent editorial slams the feds for blocking an attempt by New York City to try the soda pop ban for two years to see what if any impact it would have on obesity rates in poor communities. The newspaper cites a four-part series on the obesity pandemic in the respected British medical journal The Lancet, which calls for just this type of government action.
The editorial also cites the usual grim statistics on obesity in the United States. Twelve states now have obesity rates above 30%, and no state has an obesity rate lower than 20%.
I don’t drink pop anymore. I would advise everyone to stop drinking it, along with fruit juices and caloric sports drinks. I think liquid calories are one factor in obesity and related medical conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, for many people.
That said, I oppose the public health experiment proposed by the New York authorities and supported by The Daily News. It won’t work; it sets a dangerous precedent; and it is an affront to human dignity.
Why do I think the trial ban won’t work? First, it would only apply to sugary soft-drinks, leaving supposedly healthier caloric beverages, such as fruit juices, untouched. Second, any cheap carb calories lost from soft-drink swilling could easily be replaced by other cheap carb calories. Third, a poor person with a strong enough addiction (if it can be called that) to soft-drinks could always scrape together enough cash to keep the habit going. We aren’t talking Dom Perignon. Fourth, people don’t respond well to coercion, and look for ways to resist. Fifth, two years is unlikely to be long enough for such a limited dietary change to show any results. And finally, the observational data emerging from any study would be unreliable in the extreme, tainted by dozens of confounding variables and much wishful thinking.
In regards to that last point, consider the data the editorial cites as “mind-boggling” evidence that soda-pop is the root cause of obesity. According to a New York Health Department survey, “Nearly half the population in neighborhoods with high food-stamp usage and obesity rates reported drinking at least one sugary soft drink a day.”
Real convincing, isn’t it? You can bet the end-data would be every bit as solid as that.
The bottom-line is, even the successful elimination of this one food item wouldn’t do diddly for people’s waist lines. Long before I started eating the low-carb way, I had virtually eliminated sugary soft-drinks from my diet. Did I lose weight? No, not a pound. In fact, I kept gaining. Why? Well, it turns out that a bag of chips or a side of fries are still fattening, even when washed down with plain water.
Gee, who’d a thunk it?
Then there is the precedent the ban would establish. Let’s say the test program appears to work. What is the next step? If you were working for the USDA, what would you see as the logical next step? I think it would be a great way to start pushing the USDA Food Plate down the throats of poor Americans. Grains and other starchy foods already provide the cheapest calories. Red meat is relatively expensive, and the government already mistakenly believes it to be a health hazard. Why not ban the purchase of red meat with food stamps?
I’m not going to engage in the slippery slope fallacy and claim that such a result is inevitable. I just see it as possible. Perhaps even probable. Leaving aside the obesity concerns, some taxpayers will view both soda-pop and red meat as frills that the poor don’t deserve. Let them eat beans, bread and potatoes!
Right, that will take of the obesity crisis. Not.
Don’t think such dietary social-engineering will stop with the poor. They are just the easiest target. But consider that the country of Denmark is set to enact a tax on saturated fats this fall, and that other European countries may follow suit. Many misguided Americans will cheer them on.
I can’t believe that many of us in the low-carb community want the USDA or other conventional thinking do-gooders having more power to shape the diets of the American people. The power they already have goes a long way toward explaining why we as a nation are fatter than ever.
Yes, the poor will always have fewer dietary choices than the affluent. That’s true even for the poor who are spending their own money. Many may make the wrong choices (from my perspective) about how to use the resources they have. But I wouldn’t presume to know what the best diet is for every person; in general, I think cutting carbs is wise, but it doesn’t work the same for everybody.
Finally, I have to believe that some of the editorial’s enthusiasm for banning soft-drinks for the poor is about control. We, the haves, will tell you, the have-nots, what you may eat! We are in control!
Such an assault on personal dignity is both wrong and wrong-headed. A better approach would be to subsidize healthy whole foods — if we could agree on what they are — to make them more affordable for everyone. Then we need to encourage people, educate people, to voluntarily change their ways of eating. Yes, it would take more than two years to turn the tide on obesity, but it would turn.
Power plays just won’t work.
I’m not pushing my diet down anybody’s throat, and I certainly don’t want the government pushing its.