Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to Bash the Big Gulp is a head-turner, medical and likely presages sugar battles to come all around the nation. New York and California tend to set the trend in political and cultural change — from gay rights to good eats — and no doubt there are better-food activists who are taking note of New York’s corralling of runaway sugar.
Bloomberg wants to stop the sale of sodas over 16 oz. at fast food restaurants, vending machines and sidewalk carts. Since the New York mayor stacks the board of health that makes the decision, his proposal appears guaranteed. (Bloomberg’s limited ban does not actually Banish the Big Gulp, though it sends many dirty looks in its general direction. Big sodas and liter bottles could still be sold in grocery stories, and apparently New York will regulate convenience groceries, like 7-Eleven and its Big Gulp family, as if they were larger stores.)
Colorado eliminated the sales tax exemption for candy and soda in 2010, at the urging of then Gov. Bill Ritter, who couched it more as a budget balancing act than a food crusade. But that alone was highly controversial, and brought a renewed round of debate about whether the “nanny state” had once again gone too far.
This year, legislators debated a ban on trans fat in school foods.
Obesity-fighting organizations outside of New York are taking other tacks. Some appear to believe there’s an opening to go after subsidies for less-healthy farm foods, or the foods refined in the factory-farm process. Health advocates argue the subsidy layers for growing corn and other crops make high fructose corn syrup and other sugars extremely cheap, artificially promoting bad eating habits. A super-size soda can be cheaper than water because of these government boosts, these groups say, and the same subsidies don’t exist for healthier fruit and vegetable crops. Eliminating corn subsidies, or boosting fruit and vegetable subsidies, would at least level the playing field when consumers are using price to make their food choices.
Bloomberg’s showy move should at least help move the debate forward. Study after study stacks up on the nation’s growing obesity problem. As the mayor told interviewers after his news leaked, everybody else is talking about the issue but nobody’s doing anything about it. Many Colorado organizations are actually trying to do something about it, but the mayor’s sweeping call for bold, immediate policy moves will strike a raw nerve.