The Mayor’s Drinking Problem—and Ours

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The joke-writers can take the rest of the week off; Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to crack down on the sale of oversized sweetened drinks has spawned enough one-liners to fill a week of late-night comedy.

  • ”Bloomberg bans The Archies from municipal radio; “Sugar, Sugar” deemed a clear and present danger.
  • Bloomberg orders new lyrics for old standard: it will now be called “When I Take My Splenda to Tea.”
  • New York Knicks ordered to strike all references to their star player of the 1950s, Nate “Sweetwater” Clifton.

Beyond the jokes, the Mayor has opened himself up to new charges of authoritarian behavior. Along with a smoking crackdown that has extended to public parks, along with what Fox News might call “The War on Trans-Fats,” the Mayor now proposes to tell New Yorkers just how much sugared drinks they may buy at the ballpark, the deli, and the fast-food outlet. This idea will soon join compulsory low-flush toilets and the soon-to-be contraband incandescent light bulb as evidence that governments at all levels aspire to become The Nanny State.

My first inclination was to join in the hoots of derision. Then I re-read one paragraph from The New York Times story on Bloomberg’s decision:

“In New York City, where more than half of adults are obese or overweight, Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner, blames sweetened drinks for up to half of the increase in city obesity rates over the last 30 years. About a third of New Yorkers drink one or more sugary drinks a day, according to the city. Dr. Farley said the city had seen higher obesity rates in neighborhoods where soda consumption was more common.”

Now add to that the clear and compelling link between obesity and such serious health issues as diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. Throw in the money factor: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that if America could simply keep the obesity rate steady for the next two decades, we could save some $550 billion in health care costs.

You know what? I’m not laughing anymore.