Op-Ed: Mayor’s Critics Think He’s A Super-Sized Soda Jerk

SUGAR! (Source: Uwe Hermann/Flickr)

BETWEEN THE LINES:  Somewhere in TV heaven, Brooklyn icon Ralph Kramden is so annoyed and likely supports the legions of angry New Yorkers, who are upset over Mayor Bloomberg’s latest proposal, that he’s been shouting, “How sweet it ain’t.”

New Yorkers with expanding waistlines have visibly ignored repeated advice from health pros and nutritionists that too much sugar may lead to a variety of health-related issues.

But don’t fret: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a veteran proponent of healthier lifestyles, is on our case.

More than two years after the mayor encouraged a reduction in salt intake when he urged food manufacturers and food chains to reduce the amount of salt in their offerings, he’s targeted another reduction for a condiment on the opposite end of the taste spectrum. That came on the heels of previous Bloomberg’s health-related campaigns, such smoking bans in public offices and spaces and a trans-fat ban in restaurants.

The mayor’s latest scheme would prohibit food service establishments from selling sugar-laden beverages that contain more than 25 calories per eight fluid ounces. The proposal needs to be approved by the city’s Department of Health before restaurants, some bodegas and movie theatres will be forced to reduce the size of sugary drinks or face fines expected to be about $200 per violation. However, supermarkets and grocery stores will still be permitted to sell super-sized soft drinks.

Bloomberg’s opponents could care less that his proposed ban is not a broad prohibition on sugary drinks, which is why the outcry, in some circles, is a bit much.

No sooner did the mayor announce the proposal last week than there was a deluge of controversy and debate, including a witty Facebook photo (via the Looking Spoon website) that depicts an out-of-date soda fountain worker adjacent to the mayor depicted as a contemporary “soda jerk.”

Some are whining that this is just more uncalled for meddling by Bloomberg into a matter that he should just avoid — their personal lives. However, the pro-business web site, Investors.com, may have gone too far last Thursday when it referred to Bloomberg as a “Sugar Nazi” and a tyrannical dictator.

Since when is the right to an excess of sugar guaranteed by the Constitution? Nonetheless, some people may believe is included in their gluttonous pursuit of happiness.

The mayor’s announcement also prompted the American Beverage Association to fight back with a full page ad in Friday’s Daily News with claims that sugar sweetened beverages are not as much of a problem leading to obesity as the mayor claims. The ad asserts that calories from beverages have decreased over the last decade while obesity rates have climbed, implying that sugary sodas are not the problem.

Despite the uproar, the mayor’s supported by lots of evidence — drinking beverages, like a 20-ounce soda that contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar. Health experts maintain that amount is unsafe as it increases the risks of obesity, diabetes and other ailments. Though his style lacks the compassion of a caring parent, the well-being of our children and all Americans is at stake.

Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement for the last decade, we all know that obesity has reached epidemic proportions nationwide, as well as a locally. According to city Health Department statistics, well over half of New Yorkers are either obese or overweight, with almost a third of that number being children between ages six and 11.

Bloomberg critics say it’s none of his business if people choose to ignore warnings about unhealthy diets and let their waistlines expand. But the mayor’s agenda can help reduce health costs, which are strangling the nation’s and personal budgets. A little bit less here and there couldn’t hurt and might, over time, prove to be wise decision.

Decades ago, I went cold turkey and stopped adding natural or artificial sweeteners to my daily cup of coffee. Prior to that I drastically reduced my consumption of soda after I spilled some on the hood of an old car and the paint quickly disappeared. While soda doesn’t eat away at a stomach like it did the surface of my car, it did raise a red flag that the chemicals in that soft drink must be risky. These days I prefer sugarless or diet iced teas, unsweetened lemonade or refrigerated tap or bottled water. Good article about the dangers of Splenda and many other artificial sweeteners can be found here.

Despite all the debate, Bloomberg does have a salient argument. After all, it would be extremely unflattering if the city became known as the Really Big Apple.

Nevertheless, the mayor’s proposal should be a signal to adults, especially parents, to take a more responsible role. While they may consider the ban unduly intrusive, it should make adults more aware that less sugar would be more beneficial to their own and their children’s health.

If the Health Department approves the sugar ban, it is not expected to take effect until next March. Nine months after that, Michael Bloomberg will be out of office. Perhaps those who don’t see eye to eye with his latest or prior dietary and nutritional regulations will salute his exit by gulping down a sweet, super-sized soda.

You gotta admit that, except for a fleeting thirst quench, those extra large and super-sized sugar-laden soft drinks have absolutely no positive or nutritional value. Despite the practical advice, albeit from a politician not a health professional, in this instance, most people think Mayor Michael Bloomberg ain’t nothin’ but a soda jerk.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

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