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Letter From The Editor: The Big Gulp

I worked with a guy once who taught me that for every problem, there was a quote from Benito Mussolini, Italy’s dictator for 21 long years. My former associate, the Mussolini devotee, would say it in Italian, then in English, and then repeat in Italian as if we could all learn it so quickly. For example, Mussolini said:

” La verità è gli uomini sono stanchi di libertà.”

“The truth is men are tired of liberty.”

“La verità è gli uomini sono stanchi di libertà.”

Are you getting the hang of this?

E ‘bene fidarsi degli altri, ma, non farlo è molto meglio.”

“It’s good to trust others, but, not to do so is much better.”

“E ‘bene fidarsi degli altri, ma, non farlo è molto meglio.”

Okay, just one more.

“La democrazia è bella in teoria, ma in pratica si tratta di un errore.”

“Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.”

“La democrazia è bella in teoria, ma in pratica si tratta di un errore.”

Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, but it took him eight more years to become the full-fledged Italian dictator who was called simply “Il Duce” or “The Leader.” He ruled until shortly after the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, and was killed by an application of piano wire in 1945.

Many of Benito’s famous sayings I think came during the 1920’s when he was the world’s salesman for fascism. He often depicted fascism as just a mix of state and corporate power. Nothing to worry about.

So blame my old associate for the fact that every time I see Michael Bloomberg preaching on television these days, I think about Benito. Like New York’s Mayor, Italy’s 27th PM did not have much patience for democracy or trusting people to do the right thing.

And we were seeing a lot of Mayor Bloomberg this past week after a state Supreme court judge struck down New York’s proposed ban on sugary “big gulp” drinks. The court found the action by the Bloomberg-control Board of Health “arbitrary and capricious.” Bloomberg’s lawyers have appealed and it could go either way according to non-involved legal experts.

With good reason, we’ve given broad powers to health boards and health officers. We’ve granted them the power to react to public health emergencies. But who among us really believes the “Big Gulp” ban is truly a response to a public health emergency.

Yes, obesity is health problem. There is no doubt about it. But banning “Big Gulps” is nothing more than a political decision and an experiment. Nobody really knows what will happen.

In these situations, my question for public health officials is shouldn’t these decisions be left to the political process? In other words, would it not be better for the NY Board of Health to make the Big Gulp ban a recommendation to the City Council?  Then, elected officials would be “the deciders.”

Because this health board just fell in line behind Bloomberg, it is now in danger of having its authority trimmed some by the courts. I know all this democracy and allowing elected officials make the major decisions is a pain for the likes of Bloomberg, but most of us have no desire to be dictated to by lite-like fascists.

I do not have a dog in this hunt. I’ve never bought anything in a 64 ounce cup. (Well maybe once just to hold ice.) When I do notice them, its usually movie theaters where I’d love to ban them just because of the noise some people make with the damn big cups and straw.

But I also understand the market for them. Truck drivers, construction workers, cab drivers, and anyone being confined in one place for a time will find 64-oz cups useful. In so many cases the calories involved are consumed over several hours. Frankly, that’s not a public health emergency and nobody needs to solve it.

I’ve mentioned before that portion control and calorie restrictions are subject that government should approach with much care because the track record isn’t pretty. Bloomberg’s “Big Gulp” ban struck me as just an attempt to restrict calories for a population he did not think had the clout to fight back.

He’d claim some credit for something that is really an uncontrolled experiment. Would the fat kid in junior high really give those calories up or would he or she  be replacing them (or doubling) them with something worse?

My comparison of Bloomberg to Mussolini’s lite fascist years is made only to get us thinking. Are we tired of liberty? Do we trust people? Is democracy the best way to solve problems?

Best to think about it while there is still time.

© Food Safety News
  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    There’s so many things wrong with this writing that I have to assume it’s more bait than opinion.

    For one, no one is banning the Big Gulp—not even in New York. The 7-11 stores that sell Big Gulps are exempt from the law. The only places impacted by the new regulation were fast food places and restaurants.

    Secondly, no one is stopping anyone from drinking 64 ounces of pop at a sitting. If people wanted to buy 4 cups at a time, and drink out of 4 straws, they can. They’ll look silly, and the point will be made about how absurd portion sizes are now…but if people want to look absurd, they can.

    The regulation is _not_ on individuals, it’s on business. And yes, city, state, and federal agencies can impose regulations on business. They’ve done so for many years now. Presenting the New York regulations as somehow infringing on the rights of Americans is disingenuous. Using Mussolini…well, I suppose it’s better than using Hitler, but it’s still a cheap, journalistic trick.

    Lastly, you grossly understate the issue of obesity and the impact of soda in the increase of obesity. That 64 ounces of pop packs in a whopping 744 calories. And that’s completely empty calories with absolutely no nutritious value, whatsoever. Spreading the 744 calories over a few hours does not lessen the impact of the calories.

    Not only is soda adding to the the problem of obesity in this country, it’s also adding to the incidents of diabetes. And the increase in diabetes costs every American, whether you drink the pop or not.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/soda-obesity-diabetes-ban-_n_2862064.html

    • http://twitter.com/NeuroticShaman Pester Stone

      “The regulation is _not_ on individuals, it’s on business. And yes, city, state, and federal agencies can impose regulations on business. They’ve done so for many years now. Presenting the New York regulations as somehow infringing on the rights of Americans is disingenuous.”

      This thinking is absurd. Your logic is double-speak in it’s purest form. Sure, they don’t say John Taxpayer cannot possess or produce 64 oz of sugary drink for his own enjoyment, but they will regulate business that sell them (it’s not likely that John Taxpayer is brewing sugary drinks in his basement). I understand that this isn’t the same as Prohibition, but thinking there is a real distinction between businesses being regulated and individuals that purchase from businesses is being disingenuous.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

    It appears Dan’s learned more about this from the soda industries multi-million dollar PR push-back than he has from more rational and objective sources. Firstly, the Board of Health issued a rule that limited the portion size of sugary, non-nutritious beverages at food service establishments regulated by DOHMH.

    There is no “Big Gulp ban”. In fact, 7-11′s Big Gulp would still be allowed to deliver over 5 times the recommended daily maximum of sugar. The judge ruled that this rendered the law ineffective, and he faulted the City for not extending the rule to 7-11′s. He was not satisfied that the City didn’t have the power to enforce a limit at 7-11′s. New York State is in charge of regulating 7-11′s, but somehow the judge faulted the City for the State’s inaction, and ruled that it was evidence of the rule’s “political considerations.”

    The judge made a number of other interpretations of the Board’s authority, and I can summarize them if anyone requests. Suffice to say, as Dan points out, there is a good chance the ruling will be overturned upon appeal.

    But I think is is important to point out is that this rule will have an impact on public health. Despite Dan’s confusion about the basics of the rule, it will work to make a healthier portion the default. If you go into a movie theater and order a popcorn and a regular Pepsi, a 16 oz. cup is the largest you will receive. Yes, some folks will order two, and some folks will sneak in a larger bottle bought at 7-11. But many of us will just settle for 16 oz. without that counterperson giving us the corporate up-sale line of, “Do you want a large soda for just 15 cents more?”

    And that loss of business is why the soda industry is spending so much money to fight this rule and depict it as something it’s not. It’s also what makes this rule good for New York City.

    This ban is not much different than Bloomberg’s ban on transfat in restaurants. Neither are a silver bullet for a health crisis. Neither completely eradicate the presence of a food item in the City. Both were passed by the Board of Health, having been appointed by a democratically elected mayor and empowered by a democratically elected City Council, using their expertise and technical competence, for the betterment of the community that over 8 million people call home.

    • Oginikwe

      “The judge made a number of other interpretations of the Board’s authority, and I can summarize them if anyone requests.”

      Please do. I am very curious about all of this and would really like to know more on what the judge had to say. Thank you.

      • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

        I wrote this and it was posted on another blog. I will copy and paste. Please excuse the length:

        Judge Tingling said that in order for the NYC Board of Health (BoH) to regulate sugary drinks they must satisfy four criteria. Here’s what they are and why the judge felt they were not met:

        1. The regulations can’t be based on economic, political, or social considerations. The judge thinks the sugary drink 16 oz cap rules are based on these considerations. He points to the fact that the rules only cover food service establishments. He suggests that the BoH’s failure to try to work with the NYS Department of Ag & Markets to extend portion control to grocery stores and 7-11′s means that the regulations are based on political considerations. He takes issue with the BoH’s factoring in the economic costs of obesity and related diseases.

        2. The regulations shouldn’t be written on a “clean slate.” The judge thinks that the NYC Charter does grant the BoH power to ban food items from being sold in the name of public health. But he says that obesity and obesity related diseases are not the kind of “eminent threat” that the centuries old Charter authorizes the BoH to prevent.

        3. The regulations can’t be acting on an area that the legislature has tried and failed to act upon. The judge sees the defeat of both soda taxes and the ban on SNAP purchases of soda as evidence that regulating sugary drinks has been rejected by the legislature. Therefore, he believes the BoH cannot issue regulations designed to limit sugary drink consumption.

        4. The regulations must be written with the expertise and technical competence of the Board of Health. The judge agrees with the BoH on this one point. He thinks the Board did use its expertise and/or technical competence in considering and passing the sugary drink limits. However, the judge also says in his ruling that even if the BoH had the authority to regulate sugary drinks, he disagrees with their expert opinion that portion size limits are a good way to address obesity. Since consumers could purchase more than one 16 oz. sugary drink, or buy a Big Gulp at 7-11, the judge believes that defeats the purpose of the rule.

  • Oginikwe

    “Over-consumption is a problem for everyone. With the soda industry spending $700 million a year on advertising to push soda drinking higher, New York City and the country at large were having to shell out more than $90 billion a year on medical treatment related to the devastation effects of obesity.” p. 79n

    “The food industry prefers not to speak of addiction.” p. 109

    On High fructose corn syrup: “The glucose group emerged largely unscathed, but those who got the fructose or corn syrup beverages experienced a 25 percent jump in their triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and a fat-biding protein, all markers for heart disease.” p. 133

    From “Salt Sugar Fat” by Michael Moss

    Bloomberg’s ban may not be perfect but it’s a start: we saw this same trajectory and this same rhetoric with cigarettes. When the CEOs and other executives of these major soda companies start sipping soda all day long, week after week, year after year, then I might agree with you.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

    I also think the hyperbole of comparing an elected official like Bloomberg or Obama to genocidal war criminals like Mussolini or Hitler really lowers the quality of the dialogue. Perhaps I should not have even dignified this piece with a serious response..

  • ethanspapa

    When we have to be careful of what we say. Then gently have to talk in politically correct tones we stop thinking and growing. We have become a bunch of walking talking programed children that have lost the ability to think critically. When one can’t question authority and law we are in trouble.