Cutting Back on Sweets

If Mayor Bloomberg has his way, super-size portions of sugary drinks will go the way of cigarettes in restaurants. And that’s not a bad thing.

The mayor has a way of upsetting those who believe that government has no role to play in policing unhealthy private consumption. Critics charged that the mayor’s controversial ban on smoking in restaurants and bars would lead to an economic calamity, and, what’s more, showed that the mayor was just another operative in so-called “nanny-state” government. His insistence that fast-food outlets display the number of calories in their meals inspired more complaints about government intervention in private consumption habits.

Now, the mayor is targeting the purveyors of sugary drinks. Again there are cries of outrage from the live-and-let-live (or live-and-let-die) crowd who believe that elected leaders have no business telling the rest of us what we should drink, eat or smoke.

Here’s the problem: We all pay for the poor eating, drinking and smoking habits of our fellow citizens. That’s the mayor’s argument, and he’s absolutely right. If we as a society eventually pay for the costs related to obesity, diabetes and other ailments related to unhealthy choices, well, government has a responsibility to regulate sugar, tobacco and fat—and to inform consumers of the potential consequences of their habits.

Under the mayor’s proposal, those ubiquitous 20-ounce plastic bottles of your favorite soft drink—bottles that contain more than two servings of sugary pleasure—will be banned for sale in restaurants, movie theaters and other outlets. Venues that sell fountain drinks will be prohibited from using cups holding more than 16 ounces.

The beverage industry responded by claiming that Mr. Bloomberg’s health department has an “unhealthy obsession” with soft drinks. But it’s not the product itself that the mayor wishes to regulate. It’s the size of the container.

Not long ago, most soft drinks came in 12-ounce cans or 16-ounce bottles. Eventually, however, the beverage industry supersized its offerings. You don’t have to be a public health expert to speculate that there may be some connection between supersize soft drinks and the nation’s spike in diabetes rates and obesity.

Let’s remember, too, that the prime consumers of soft drinks are children—and it’s common knowledge that children are fatter today than they were in the past, and far too many of them are now developing diabetes.

We all will pay a price for this public-health crisis. That’s why Mr. Bloomberg is, in fact, obsessed with finding a solution. “New York City is not about wringing your hands,” he said. “It’s about doing something.”

During his tenure as mayor, Mr. Bloomberg has done something about smoking. He has done something about calling attention to high-fat, sodium-laced fast food. And now he’s doing something about the size of sugar-laden drinks consumed by children.

Some obsessions actually are quite healthy.