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Teeny Tiny Sodas

I’m sure by now, most of you have heard about New York’s new ban on soda sizes above 16 ounces in an effort to help with America’s growing obesity problem.  The ban will apply in fast food restaurants, movie theaters, Broadway theaters, sports stadiums, delis, cafeterias at work, and most other places selling prepared food.  It will not cover beverages sold in supermarkets and most convenience stores.  The rule would not apply to lower or zero calorie beverages, such as water or diet soda, or to alcoholic beverages or drinks that are more than half milk or at least 70% juice.

I may be in the minority, but I am a huge fan of this.  Throughout the years, I’ve seen fast food cups morph in size; the drink that was a large years ago is now a small or medium in most establishments, with grossly large cups taking the large and super sizes spots.  When I lived in Connecticut, I gained about fifteen pounds in a short amount of time by drinking regular sodas rather than a low or zero calorie substitute.  I’ve watched children (whose parents I was acquainted with) become overweight at early ages because mom and dad didn’t mind if they had a Coke or Mt Dew with their meals and snacks.  We are a fat and sloppy country and I appreciate efforts such as this one to try to assist our citizens.

The majority of businesses that will be affected by the ban are establishments that offer free refills, either by self-serve or by asking a cashier.  This ban is not saying “You are NOT allowed to consume more than 16 ounces of regular Dr. Pepper with this meal!”  It’s simply making it more difficult for you to access those empty calories and damage your health.  When eating fast food, you’re packing on the calories as it is with a burger (300 to 600 calories on average, although it can often push 1000) and fries (anywhere from 250 to 600 on average) or onion rings (400 on average), plus any dipping sauces you choose to use with your side (15 calories per tablespoon of ketchup, but zesty onion ring sauce nets you 150 calories per serving).  It makes sense to try to cut out the empty calories by attempting to get consumers to take it easy on the soda.  In no way is the ban stopping you from getting refill after refill; the trips to the counter will burn some of those unnecessary calories anyway.

At the movie theater, if you are like me and never willing to step out until the movie wraps, perhaps this will push you to order a different beverage at the counter.  I prefer the 20 ounce Dasani bottled water at the AMC theater to accompany my popcorn.  If I’m in the mood for a soda, I’ll spring for a diet, but both my husband and I are always sure to avoid the regular sugary sodas.  A small buttered popcorn at Regal Movie Theater will net you 670 calories (unbuttered is 485) while a large at AMC with a reasonable amount of butter puts you just over 1000.  If you must have a regular Coke, it makes sense to give you a smaller size, limiting the amount of calories you pack on while sitting immobile for two to three hours.  I’m also not above bringing in my own drink if I must; a Vitamin Water Zero is a nice way to cut through all that popcorn butter and salt without giving me thunder thighs.

Restaurants have slowly begun to put calorie counts in clear areas on their in-store menus or on display elsewhere on site rather than just on their website or in a forgotten pamphlet in the corner.  They are not tweaking their items (for the most part, although some have tried cutting down on the size of items) but simply making sure the consumer is aware of what they are about to eat.  It makes the intelligent consumer see that if they have the 1/3rd pound Hardee’s burger with fries, they are consuming half of the calories they are meant to eat per day.  They may be pushed to substitute a salad for the fries, skip the mayo on the burger (one tablespoon nets you 90 calories, lite mayo nets about 35) or make sure to eat very lightly for the rest of the day.  This soda size restriction is a bolder tool to educate consumers, but a tool nonetheless to reduce the amount of obese people and to show people how many calories they are sucking down blindly with their already calorie laden meals.  It puts up a tiny barrier between the consumer and an increase in pant size, but it’s not a barrier they cannot easily step over.

If you are a stubborn person who absolutely has to have 36 ounces of Mt Dew in front of you as you tear into your meal, then order two drinks.  If you are going to ignore all the health risks involved in overeating and consuming more calories than your body is built to handle, why not have it hurt your wallet?  Health care costs are up, in part, because of the expanding number of obese people in this country and the many health issues that come with carrying around pounds of fat your body is not built to carry.  We make smokers pay more for cigarettes that will most likely give them health problems in their future, so why not do the same with people who play Russian Roulette with their health?

I understand that I’m being extreme here, but underneath the surface, they are both the same exact thing.  If a person wishes to damage their health, after receiving the education to fully understand what kind of damage their doing, then they should definitely be inconvenienced in life and in their wallets.  How many frequent fliers have been annoyed by an obese seat mate and had their space encroached on for the entire flight?  How many people have had to deal with a rude smoker going through cigarette after cigarette at the table close by while trying to enjoy a meal?  Why is it wrong to be concerned with the rights of people living healthy rather than the “rights” of people treating their bodies like trash?

I do understand that there is a lot of upset because it feels as though the government is sticking their hands where they shouldn’t in controlling what we can drink.  But they are not controlling what we can drink.  Sodas aren’t all being switched over to diet.  Establishments aren’t getting rid of all regular sodas, Icees, and other non-diet options.  You can still go to the grocery store and get a case of regular Fanta and drink it all in one night if you wish.  All this ban is doing is making it more difficult for the general (and sometimes uneducated) public to blindly damage their health and bodies.  Is that so wrong?

Bloomberg spokeswoman, Samantha Levine, stated “we’ve heard these claims of pending apocalypse before when we proposed bold public health initiatives, and they have been proven false.  Critics predicted the end of tourism and that businesses would sink when we banned smoking in bars and restaurants, yet we’ve grown tourism to record levels and the restaurant and bar industry continues to grow.”  Some will hate the ban, some will frequent food joints less, some will just buy two drinks, and some will declare it all a failure.  Some businesses will see a slump, some will see an increase, and some will notice no change.  Life, as always, will take this ban and treat it as the small speed bump it is; we will learn to take a tiny bit of effort and just roll over it, finding that we’re just as good on the other side.

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