The happiest politician in America has got to be New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Cocooned by his personal mega-wealth, and insulated from public ire by dint of his term-limited lame-duck status, he can basically do whatever he wants without caring a whit about what anyone thinks.
Only a politician with nothing to lose would dare intrude on the God-given right of obese Americans to guzzle large quantities of soda and burden society with higher medical costs. Bloomberg’s proposed NYC ban on super-sized sugary soft drinks is being assailed far and wide as a classic example of “nanny state” overreach – Jon Stewart has gone ballistic – but I give the guy props for his moxie, for taking such a big gulp of a critical issue.If nothing else, by proposing that his board of health prohibit restaurants, food carts, movie theaters and delis from selling sugar drinks larger than 16 ounces, Bloomberg is taking the lead on public health. Sugar drinks are the number one factor in the obesity epidemic – they account for seven percent of the calories in the average American diet, the single largest source – and studies warn that, at the current “growth” rate, roughly 42 percent of all Americans will be obese by the year 2030.Naturally, Bloomberg is taking major heat for daring to impugn on the freedom of obese people to run up the nation’s health care tab – that’s indeed what they’re doing – and he doesn’t even need the cooperation of New York’s city council. He’s simply sending his proposal to the city board of health (which he controls), and if the board says yes (which it’s expected to do later this year), the deed will be done. And New York City would be the first municipality to successfully take on the powerful soda industry and protect people from themselves.Even the liberal Huffington Post is mocking Bloomberg (“What’s next, a Twinkie purge?”), and, heck, maybe the mayor’s idea wouldn’t work in practice. Grocery and convenience stores would be exempt; they’re regulated by state law. And as Bloomberg conceded on MSNBC the other day, soda-guzzlers would still be free to buy as many 16-ounce-or-less drinks as they deemed necessary for their requisite sugar fix. But studies have shown that smaller portions incentivize people to consume less – and that would be a good thing, given the fact that your typical 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar.And anything that might help reverse the obesity trend would certainly benefit the bottom line. A new Cornell University study says that obesity is currently responsible for 21 percent of all U.S. health care spending. Bloomberg says his city spends $4 billion a year on health care for its overweight denizens. Most importantly, health researchers say that even a mere one percent national decrease in the obesity rate would save us $85 billion in health care costs over the next 20 years. At least Bloomberg is trying to do something, if only in his own populous backyard, to combat the fattening of America. And what a trend it has been. Back in the 1950s, when the average soda sold to the public was a mere seven ounces, the average adult was 26 pounds lighter than today. Yeah, Bloomberg’s citizenry isn’t happy – a Marist survey, conducted in the wake of his announcement last week, found that 53 percent of New Yorkers oppose his ban proposal, while only 42 percent support it – but he was widely attacked nine years ago when he banned indoor smoking. Yet today, that ban is a given. That ban threw a huge spotlight on the dangers of side stream smoke. And a ban on super-size soda drinks could further publicize the documented link between obesity and the burgeoning health care tab that we are all compelled to pay. On the soda issue, I basically agree with conservative commentator David Frum: “Good for Bloomberg. Obesity is America’s most important public health problem, and the mayor has led the way against it. This latest idea may or may not yield results. But it is already raising awareness….The liberty that is being restricted is the liberty of the soda seller to manipulate a known human weakness.”Actually, Bloomberg’s executive move to ban large soda drinks is proof that he does not ever intend to launch an independent presidential bid. There’s no way you could win the White House after trampling on the freedom to foolishly consume.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1