Legislating Healthy Behavior

New York’s Governor, David Patterson recently proposed a tax on non-diet soft drinks. No doubt it would succeed as a revenue generator for the state, but would it work as a way to sway behavior? Its been widely reported that healthier food choices – fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, organic dairy products, etc – cost significantly more to buy than the more heavily processed “unhealthy” foods.  As a guy who does his own grocery shopping and in-home meal preparation, I can tell you this is true.  This disparity in the cost of “good” foods versus “bad” foods is why statistical rates of obesity are higher in lower income populations than in wealthier populations.   But this inequity alone isn’t the sole culprit behind obesity.  The growing pervasiveness of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in prepared foods and soft beverages is another likely culprit, packing far more caloric punch than its predecessors in the sweeteners department.  New York’s Governor, David Patterson recently proposed a tax on non-diet soft drinks.  Full sugar sodas, packed with HFCS , are another acknowedged contributor to the obesity epidemic; especially among children/teens.  Although Governor Patterson positioned this proposal as a means for “encouraging more healthy food choices” amongst New Yorkers, it is clear that as the executive of a state teetering on bankruptcy, any new tax tied to a rosy, public-health cover story would be an attractive idea to float.  No doubt it would succeed as a revenue generator for the state, but would it work as a way to sway behavior? Significant taxes have been levvied by both New York and New Jersey on the sale of tobacco.  Cigarettes now cost close to $10 per pack.  And while greater public awareness campaigns publicizing the health risks of smoking have contributed to the reduction of smokers’ ranks, there are still plenty of folks willing to pony $10 for a pack of cancer sticks.   Did overweight folks embarrassed into paying for a second seat on Southwest Airlines flights decide to lose weight as a result?  Or did they simply find a different airline to patronize? I am not sure whether or not it is sensible to try and legislate good behavior or even to promote monetary penalties on those whose behavior doesn’t meet some nebulous standard of “good” -whether in terms of health choices or in any other way.  What do you think?

6 Responses to “Legislating Healthy Behavior”

  1. Donna Atkins

    It seems to be similar to the seat belt law that forces people to wear them. Wearing seat belts saves lives. What comes to mind for me is that having things like nutritional standards be legislated helps to mitigate some of the sorry lack of information of parents, for example, who may not be enlightened and, therefore, stand to perpetuate bad habits in yet another generation. By having the information available, young people may make better personal choices. Obviously, it has not been enough to put warnings on products, i.e. cigarettes, to encourage people to refrain from using them. Having things legislated, while there are understandably the “freedom” issues involved, makes a good argument, for doing so. In this case, the overwhelming onslaught of advertising inherent in promulgating the message of the fast food companies has no possible way of being short circuited via just warnings. Putting legislation into place stands to take the matter to the next level, a level at which so many lives might be drastically affected for the better.

    • Margie

      I don’t know, Donna … it worries me some as to what is next in line … you know, what about other kinds of sugary foods such as chocolate??? Or other foods that contain high fructose syrup? There are many. Just a thought …

  2. Zoila Nusbaum

    Well I clearly understand that obsesity being a issue of today. As should we concentrate on the opposite spectrum. Anorexcia. (another topic for another day)

    I honestly fear the government dictating more and more of our daily activities. Honestly, taxation on soda? What are we paying this man for? If we are going to solve the problem then we need to solve what we are feeding our children in public schools, we need to have healthier choices in all fast food places if we are going to have fast food, we need to minimize lobbiest who are attached to large corporations. Diet soda is just as bad as soda. Yes it has less sugar, but just as many chemicals.

    Oh how I could go on how we could improve our government. Change starts at home. And until we as American’s believe that again, the government will pass a plethra of silly laws and taxations.


  3. SuccessBound

    Actually, in New York, the govt passed a law that required restaurants with multiple locations to post the amount of calories for each serving. In other words, patrons know in advance how “nutritious” their order will be. You would think that this would have a major effect on the leading fast food chains. It’s been the total opposite. Especially in this economy where the “dollar menu” is very attractive.

    In fact, NY Magazine did an informal survey of people exiting fast food restaurants to gauge what effect seeing the calories on the menu board had on ordering. Only about 3% of the people surveyed said that the calorie listings had a effect on their ordering.

    In the case of this calorie posting law, it wasn’t done as a form of taxation disguised as benefiting the public, but more in line with a “Big Brother” wielding power and forcing a personal agenda on the public. An agenda that it seems the public is not buying (pun intended).

  4. Jennifer Duplain

    Well, I have to agree with Zoila on this one. As Americans we should be more healthy. We should also understand what is good and bad. Supersizing your value meal from McDonalds is not the way to go. Instead try ordering off of the dollar menu’s. I have to say that I like the fact that fast food places have substitues for kids meals. Instead of getting my son french fries, I get him apples, oranges, yogurt, or what ever else that is healthy. Instead of soft drinks I get him milk. At home I watch what my son eats. I buy smaller portion snacks for him to eat. I give him more fruit to eat. Hopefully, when he is in school, he can make better choices in the lunch line. Eating healthy starts at home. As far as taxing non- diet soda that is just obserd. That will not change the person to be healthier.

    • Anthony

      You nailed it Jen. Healthy eating does start at home. We take our young son to Burger King every once in a while as a treat. But lots of families – whether because both parents work leaving little time for meal prep, or because the dollar menu is so cheap for prepared food – rely on fast food for numerous meals every week. Its a tough problem. We need to teach our kids from an early age that the food they ingest is fuel and to choose better fuel for themselves. In our modern culture, it is all too easy to make bad choices.

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