Last September the New York City Board of Health approved a measure that would ban the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces. Politicians justified the action because of the city’s escalating obesity rate and research linking sugary drinks to weight gain. Overall, care for obesity-related illnesses costs the New York City nearly $2.8 billion annually, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. Politicians, then, believe they have the authority to legislate how much of a beverage citizens can legally purchase at one time.
In a strange turn of events, and possibly the first time in recent history we seen cooperation of this nature, the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation are joining forces to fight government intervention in the market to try to stop the ban from taking effect March 12. The Associated Press reports:
Critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.
The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups say in court papers they’re concerned about the discrepancy, but the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and “freedom of choice in low-income communities.”
The absolute absurdity of government telling business owners the number of ounces they can or cannot sell warrants a much longer comment than this blog allows, but America beware: this type of intervention is coming to a town near you. Politicians, yet again, have put themselves in the seat of omniscience to tell the rest of us what is best. This rule targets the wrong culprit. Large sugar drinks are sold because people want them. Why are businesses being punished for responding to the demands of consumers?
Moreover, the rule is arbitrary because “alcohol, unsweetened juice and milk-based drinks are excluded, as are supermarkets and many convenience stores—including 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp—that aren’t subject to city health regulations,” according the AP. This raises so many questions. Why is 7-Eleven excluded? Why grocery stores? Why are milk-based drinks excluded?
Like many other cities, obesity in New York is on the rise but the reason has everything to do with people’s choices. In most cases, obesity is a virtue problem. Obesity will decline when people make lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. Civil rights groups are upset because of the potential impact on minority-owned businesses but the larger, more dangerous concern is the obvious ignorance of how markets work. Government officials simply don’t get it. This type of intervention does nothing but introduce perverse incentives to avoid the ruling.
I am not a prophet but I am fairly certain that this ban will have no effect on making obese people less obese but will simply shift where obesity will flourish. In the end, there is no reason for any of us to believe that politicians have the competence or expertise to use the force of law to tell citizens how much of what to drink.