Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pour a Little Sugar on it Honey

With a 9.6% unemployment rate-12.5% in the Bronx-the City of New York is taking aggressive action: they've launched a campaign to get city residents to stop drinking soda. As Crain's reports: "New Yorkers may think twice about drinking their next can of soda or sweetened ice tea after viewing the ads on some 1,500 subway cars sponsored by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The agency that brought a halt to smoking in restaurants, a ban on trans fats in baked goods and a requirement to post calorie counts on restaurant menus is now taking aim at sugary drinks. A public awareness campaign, which starts Monday, advises New Yorkers to quench their thirst with water, seltzer or low-fat milk instead of sodas, teas, sports drinks and juices."

Now, we don't really object to public service messages, but we know one thing for certain-the NYC DOH will not be satisfied with simple jawboning; and the more serious kinds of intervention can't be far off. Taxes anyone? But someone should tell the Nannies that there are a lot of New Yorkers who earn a living making, distributing, and retailing soda-so we shouldn't want to throw the baby out with the bottled water.

As the NY Post reports, industry reps object to being singled out-but soda's only the beginning, trust us: "It's absurd and over the top and unfortunately is going to undermine efforts to educate about a serious and complex issue like obesity," argued Kevin Keane, a senior vice president at the American Beverage Association. "It just defies science and common sense to single out a single product as the contributor of obesity..."Why not educate them on all calories and how all calories affect one's weight, because they do?" he said. "Why aren't they going after cake? Why single out soft drinks?"

And, of course, there are a lot of sugary drinks besides soda, so confusion will likely reign. But the DOH loves to shock-as the NY Times points out: "Cathy Nonas, a dietitian who directs physical activity and nutrition programs at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that officials concluded, after conducting focus group tests, that a graphic, in-your-face approach would work. “We are hoping that the biggest effect is, first of all, shock, and that the understanding is that when you drink extra calories, they will be stored as fat,” she said."

One thing that did catch our eye, however, was the following observation in Crain's: "The agency worked together with the Department of Education in developing a request for proposal to replace the city’s controversial contract with Snapple, which was the city schools’ exclusive provider of water, juice and ice tea. The RFP went out this spring and does not allow providers to sell sodas in school vending machines and it places a limit on the number of calories a snack or beverage may contain."

Well, a little bird involved with the RFP process did tell us that, in the case of this proposal, the city outsourced the decision to the Octagon Group-whose personnel seemed more interested, we are told, in the dollars to the city than the quality of the product being provided to the school kids. We await with great interest to see if the winning bidder lives up to the health standards that are supposedly being set.

But regardless, if Bloomberg is re-elected we will have another four more years of health hectoring-and how this will improve our quality of life as our economy keeps cratering is any one's guess. The latest sales tax collection numbers-down 10%-are indeed grim. But stop drinking soda-and don't forget that bottled water is a No No too because of the environmental damage-at least we will go to economic hell in a hand basket knowing that we're healthier while we take the ride to oblivion.