It’s a bad thing, of course, but I’m skeptical there’s any real way to solve it. At least, any plausible political way. See, about five years ago, virtually everybody denounced Michael Bloomberg for banning large soda cups. Nanny state! Boo! Except that, as my registered dietitian sister says, the first thing you want to do to lose weight is to cut out sugary drinks. Sometimes that is enough in and of itself. And those preposterous sizes encourage more consumption. It’s perfectly straightforward. But pretty much nobody stood up for the guy when he did this. Even Michelle Obama, who had this exact portfolio during her years in the White House, went fully ambivalent on the move. It’s not that I don’t get why–she constantly got the same sorts of attacks for trying to get more vegetables into school lunches and whatnot. But I’m not really sure how else you’re going to attack this problem! If you rule out state power to ban unhealthy foods because We Can’t Be Picking Winners And Losers, what tools can you even use? (Also, given how often we use–overuse, in fact–state power to deal with problems related to children, it seems much more plausible that people want to be seen as doing something to solve the problem, rather than solving it.)

Anyway, this is the reason for my pessimism. It’s weirdly a mirror reflection of the failed anti-drug campaign. Different problem there, of course, where you’ve created a black market that’s worse than any conceivable legal one would be, but the political choices in both cases we make rule out any approach other than a weak “just say no” one. But at least we feel good about ourselves for taking a stand against whatever we’re taking a stand against, and that’s what matters, right?

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  1. lumpkin says:

    I’m not sure that banning or heavily taxing large sodas is very effective. I looked at a report on a study of the effect of the tax in Berkeley. Lots of talk about changes in soda and other beverage sales, but no discussion of outcomes. According to the article it appears at least some people are substituting water, milk and fruit juice. Milk and fruit juice are probably just as fattening as soda.

    Seems unlikely that chipping around the edges with bans and taxes is really going to make a big dent in the problem. If studies of cities where bans and taxes have been enacted actually show significant, favorable outcomes, then I’d gladly support this approach. Until then, I’d recommend that liberals avoid getting too carried away with these things. The nanny state label sticks very readily to democrats and I think is a deterrence to support from some centrists who might otherwise be more supportive. No point in burning a lot of political capital on this until there’s some strong evidence it works. There is a big enough sample size already to make that determination. The fact that we’ve not been hearing a lot about how much this approach has reduced childhood obesity makes me skeptical that it is effective.

    I think the problem starts with parents. I’ve seen numerous examples of parents buying big sodas and piles of candy for their overweight kids. They simply do not care that their children are overweight. I bet you they eat unhealthy meals at home, too. Cracking this nut is the key to solving the problem -- unfortunately nobody seems to know how to do that. 

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