By Dr. Mercola
If you've paid any attention to the US news over the past week, you've surely heard that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, in an effort to combat obesity.
The announcement was made just days before Mayor Bloomberg celebrated National Donut Day in Madison Square Park, where, on June 1, the largest box of Entenmann's Donuts ever created was proudly unveiled1...
Bloomberg's plan would prohibit the sale of cups or bottles of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces from restaurants, delis, movie theaters, sports arenas, street vendors, and any other establishment that is regulated by the New York City Department of Health. According to CNN, the NYC Department of Health will submit the proposed measure to the Board of Health on June 12. The board will then accept comments for next three months, after which it will make its decision. If approved, the proposal would take effect six months later—as early as March of next year—and restaurant owners would have nine months from the adoption of the proposal to comply before any fines would be levied.
According to Bloomberg, New York City spends $4 billion a year on medical care for overweight people, and he wants to "do" something about that. CNN recently quoted the Mayor as saying2:
"This is something we think we have the legal authority to do. We¹re not taking away anybody's right to do something; we're simply making it different for them in how they do it." He said he hoped the move will help lead to different behaviors."
Why Impose a Measure that Cannot Achieve its Stated Aim?
Folks, this is a perfect example of nonsensical Big Brother intervention. It's a knee-jerk "solution" that doesn't solve anything.
Prohibiting people from buying one large rather than two smaller sized sodas is in no way, shape or form going to solve the problem of obesity. Of all the hare-brained ideas out there, this one really takes the cake. All it will do is increase profits for the manufacturers and sellers, as people who want more will buy more, and drive up industry consumption of plastic and create more waste... I truly do not believe that this plan will have any major impact on altering consumer behavior.
While it is encouraging to see the increased appreciation of the contribution of soda to the obesity epidemic, it's extremely disappointing to see such short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness among our political leaders. This legislation will actually encourage people who want the large sizes to select diet sodas, which are not included in the ban. This will have the paradoxical effect of actually worsening obesity rates, as many studies show diet soda is worse than regular soda at increasing obesity.
Clearly, soda is one of the absolute worst things you can consume, and yes, it certainly contributes to obesity.
But placing prohibitions on serving sizes is not a real solution because it does not address the fundamental problem; which is that people have been, and still are, being lied to by health officials and industry-owned media on virtually every health and dietary issue there is. In fact, most of the nutritional information distributed by our public health agencies was created and /or manipulated by the processed food and beverage industry. Public dietary recommendations have no real basis in actual knowledge of nutrition, and commonly used tools such as the new food pyramid are designed to protect profits of industries such as Big Sugar and Big Ag, which is now led by multi-national corporations like Monsanto, which is now fighting tooth and nail to prevent having to disclose genetically engineered products on food labels...
Without accurate and truthful information, how will the average consumer know how to optimize their health?
If our government truly wants to address the obesity problem, they must stop supporting and protecting the profits of the industries that are running our food and health system into the ground. That's a tall order, and a measure like this one is nothing but political grandstanding that will have no real effect whatsoever, other than indoctrinating the public into thinking it's okay for our government to dictate what foods and drinks you are and are not allowed to buy.
All of that said, there are those who stand behind Bloomberg's proposal. In a recent article for Time Magazine, Shannon Brownlee writes3:
"NYC's mayor wouldn't be trying to outlaw giant sugary drinks if we hadn't lost all sense of a normal serving size...
Bloomberg has gotten a lot of flack from the beverage industry and free marketeers, but he's right to propose such a ban: we shouldn't really be drinking anything out of those bathtub-sized cups but water, and certainly not a 7/11 Double Gulp that contains 55 ounces and more than 700 calories. But huge has become the new normal. The fact that such a ban is even being proposed shows you how out of whack our sense of proportion has become.
When I was a kid, Coca-Cola came in 6-ounce glass bottles, and that seemed like plenty. It wasn't all that long ago that a 12-ounce soda was considered perfectly sufficient—even large. But walk into any pizzeria or deli these days and you'll have a very hard time even finding 12-ounce cans of anything. 20-ounce plastic bottles are now considered the standard single-serving size.
... The ban on large drinks, on the other hand, could reset our notion of what a normal beverage serving looks like, and that could make all the difference."
She makes an excellent point. Many if not most Americans have indeed lost all sense of proportion. Especially our youth, to whom "bathtub-sized" portions are the norm. Still, I believe there are many problems with Mayor Bloomberg's proposal. Besides the fact that it places unnecessary restrictions on personal freedom of choice, it does nothing to address the core issue of public education about the dangers of sugar, particularly fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Furthermore, the measure does not apply to diet sodas (which are even more pernicious), fruit juices, dairy-based drinks, "enhanced" water beverages, or alcohol.
This is a clear sign that the Mayor simply does not understand the basics of nutrition and obesity, as not only is there is no major difference between soda and other fructose-laden drinks, but diet soda is in many ways even more hazardous to your health than regular soda. In fact, studies have shown that diet sodas, which contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, actually boost your risk of obesity more than regular soda does! Artificial sweeteners are also associated with an increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome—just like regular soda.
I'm certainly not proposing that all of these excluded drinks be placed under the same size-prohibition; I'm simply pointing out that singling out certain types of sugary drinks and restricting sale of larger sizes is not a viable or sensible solution. What's needed is proper education by people who are not beholden to industry interests, along with fundamental changes to the entire food industry, starting with our agricultural subsidies.
Skyrocketing Obesity is Related to Misleading the Public on Health Issues
Obesity is the result of inappropriate lifestyle choices, and unfortunately, our government has done an abysmal job at disseminating accurate information about diet and health. For example, conventional advice that is driving public health in the wrong direction includes:
- Avoiding saturated fat: The myth that saturated fat causes heart disease has undoubtedly harmed an incalculable number of lives over the past several decades, even though it all began as little more than a scientifically unsupported marketing strategy for Crisco cooking oil. Most people actually need at least 50 percent of their diet to include healthful saturated fats such as organic, pastured eggs, avocados, coconut oil, real butter and grass-fed beef in order to optimize their health
- Cutting calories: Not all calories are created equal, and counting calories will not help you lose weight if you're consuming the wrong kind of calories
- Reducing your cholesterol to extremely low levels: Cholesterol is actually NOT the major culprit in heart disease or any disease, and the guidelines that dictate what number your cholesterol levels should be to keep you "healthy" are fraught with conflict of interest -- and have never been proven to be good for your health
- Choosing diet foods will help you lose weight: Substances like Splenda and aspartame may have zero calories, but your body isn't fooled. When it gets a "sweet" taste, it expects calories to follow, and when this doesn't occur it leads to distortions in your biochemistry that may actually lead to weight gain
This is just a tiny sampling of the misleading information on weight and obesity disseminated by our government agencies. A more complete list of conventional health myths could easily fill an entire series of books. The reason behind this sad state of affairs is the fact that the very industries that profit from these lies are the ones funding most of the research; infiltrating our regulatory agencies; and bribing our political officials to support their financially-driven agenda through any number of legal, and at times not so legal, means.
How Much Fructose Do You Consume Daily?
The average American now consumes 1/3 of a pound of sugar daily. That's five ounces or 150 grams, half of which is fructose, which is 300 percent more than the amount that will trigger biochemical havoc. And many Americans consume more than twice that amount.
If everyone could easily keep their total grams of fructose to below about 25 grams per day then I believe we would start seeing some radical changes in obesity statistics. But the key issue is that while that is theoretically possible, few people are actually doing it, and the reliance on processed food is the primary reason for this failure.
Soda is certainly a MAJOR culprit, but again, restricting the sale of Big Gulps is not going to do much to curb this epidemic as long as people fail to realize the metabolic ramifications of fructose—the majority of which is hidden in processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is used in virtually everything, making it very difficult to determine just how much fructose you're consuming every single day. So the problem is much bigger than the fact that it's "too easy" to order a larger size drink when you're in a fast food restaurant... The entire meal is laden with sugar!
Even infant formula and baby starter foods contain massive amounts of fructose, even though babies have absolutely no biological need for it. The fact of the matter is, it's a cheap ingredient that makes the food taste good, which, naturally, is good for sales. Sugar also has the same addictive quality as cocaine, which further promotes incessant snacking and overeating, in addition to overconsumption of soda and other sweet beverages.
Fructose Wreaks Metabolic Havoc in Your Body...
- Is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat
- Tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism, as it turns off your body's appetite-control system. Fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") and doesn't stimulate leptin (the "satiety hormone"), which together result in your eating more and developing insulin resistance.
- Rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity ("beer belly"), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
- Over time leads to insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers.
If you have not yet taken the time to watch Dr. Lustig's excellent lecture on sugar, I urge you to do so now. This is the kind of information that needs to be taught to school children and nutritionists across the country if we're ever going to change consumer behavior.
This is a Flash-based video and may not be viewable on mobile devices.
Two Keys that Can Curb Out-of-Control Obesity
As explained by Dr. Robert Lustig, fructose is "isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. The reason for this is primarily related to the fact that different nutrients provoke different hormonal responses, and those hormonal responses determine, among other things, how much fat you accumulate. This is why the idea that you can lose weight by counting calories simply doesn't work.
After fructose, other sugars and grains are likely the most excessively consumed food that promotes weight gain and chronic disease. Other sugars can easily include items that are typically viewed as healthy, such as fruit juice or even large amounts of high fructose fruits. In large amounts these items will adversely affect your insulin, which is a crucially potent fat regulator.
I believe there are two primary dietary recommendations that could make all the difference in the world, were they to be widely advocated. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen anytime soon, because accepting these recommendations would mean cutting profitability for the food industry—not to mention the fact that major health agencies would have to confess that they've been misleading you for a very long time!
The two primary keys I'm talking about are:
- Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and
- Increasing healthy fat consumption
While health authorities insist that sugar is fine "in moderation," and that grains are an essential part of a healthy diet and can actually help you prevent heart disease, they fail to take into consideration that:
- Fructose is the NUMBER ONE source of calories in the US, which means our consumption of it is far from "moderate." As stated earlier, this is not at all surprising when you consider that fructose, primarily in the form of cheap high fructose corn syrup, is in just about everything—even food items you'd never expect would need it, including diet foods and 'enhanced' water products
- Refined carbohydrates (breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles etc) quickly breaks down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease known to man, including heart disease
Take Control of Your Own Health
Clearly, we need to address obesity. But that entails addressing our entire food system—from agricultural subsidies, to advertising, to public dietary recommendations; school lunches, and nutritional education in general. In order to do that, we must face these giant food and beverage industries head on... Bloomberg is obviously not up for that task. Hopefully some day, someone will be.
In the meantime, I urge you to take control of your own health, and take the time to educate yourself about the facts of how to achieve optimal health. My web site contains tens of thousands of articles addressing virtually every facet of health, from how to optimize your diet and exercise routine, to the dangers of various drugs and the safest alternatives.
To get you started, I recommend reviewing my Nutritional Plan, which will guide you step-by-step from the beginner's level to advanced. Making small incremental changes is perhaps the easiest way to change your lifestyle into one that will support and promote good health well into your old age.