Lawmakers should focus on health education, not sugary drinks

“More than two-thirds of adults”:http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html the United States are either overweight or obese. A similar proportion of overweight or obese adults is also true of New York City, where recent legislation was passed to reduce the “fat” epidemic. At this moment, roughly 60 percent of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, according to “New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.”:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-18/obesity-epidemic-needs-government-rules-nyc-health-chief.html And he expects that number to rise.

Americans’ increasing waistlines have been a point of contention for the legislative side of public health, and it has spurred several ideas about how to best quell our BMI issue. One that’s been at the forefront of the discussion is New York City’s ban on sugary drinks that exceed 16 ounces. However, that ban’s effectiveness has been questioned since it was first proposed in the spring of 2012. The bill is scheduled to go into effect March 2013.

Two key studies have brought this back to the discussion table since New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the ban this past summer: The New England Journal of Medicine “published a study Friday”:http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1203039?query=featured_home about the positive correlation between intake of sugary drinks, genetic disposition for being overweight, and a person’s likelihood of being overweight.

Additionally, substituting sugary drinks with sugar-free drinks “significantly reduced weight gain and body fat gain in healthy children,” as found by “another double-blind study published Friday”:http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1203034?query=featured_home#t=articleDiscussion in The New England Journal of Medicine.

These studies show strong results about the implications of high consumption of poor drink options, but they demonstrate that sugary drinks are but one contributing factor to our nation’s obesity trends — not the only factor.

When Chicago instituted its indoor-smoking ban, it was because lung cancer had seen a dramatic increase in fatalities: from 20 to 80 deaths out of a population of 100,000 from 1950 to 1998.

It was understood that the increase was directly caused by an increase in smoking. Unlike the relationship between sugary drink bans and obesity, smoking contributed substantially to lung cancer. That ban had reasonable justification. It may not have significantly reduced the amount of smokers, but it helped to cut secondhand smoke. Conversely, sugary drinks don’t harm anyone but the consumer.

You can’t point a finger at an extra-large Coke and say that’s why America is getting fatter. Health associated with weight is due to a slew of factors: physical activity, frequency of meals, and the nutrition content of food can negate the effects of drinking less than 16 ounce of sugary drinks if they are not tended to.

The most important thing New York and American legislatures can do today is push a greater understanding of the benefits and downfalls of certain dietary and exercise choices. Instead of educating people about the benefits of healthy food and detriments of sugary drinks, lawmakers are trying to force citizens to make the right choices.

We’re well-versed in the harmful effects of smoking, but Americans are still grabbing their Big Mac from McDonald’s and walking less than a 100 yards a day. Ordering a 16-ounce Coke instead of a 32-ounce one isn’t going to make great strides in our path to a more health-conscience America. Let the people choose, but help them understand the consequences of their actions.