Responding to reports of a growing obesity epidemic within the population of New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a proposal in his office this Wednesday that would ban all sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces. Indeed, during Bloomberg’s term as mayor, there has been exceptional weight gain in certain parts of the city, but instead of New Yorkers themselves, it is their government that has become bloated.
Obesity is a problem affecting a select group of people. Even the most liberal estimates about the percent of obese New Yorkers consistently put the figure below a third of the population. The New York Department of Health reports that 22% of the city’s residents are currently classified as “obese.” Thus, by banning large sugary drinks for all New York residents, the mayor is punishing the city’s entire population for the irresponsible habits of a select few. Like other liberal proposals, this sweeping regulation takes a one-size-fits-all approach to governing, thereby failing to take into account the fact that citizens are individuals with different metabolisms, body types, and tastes.
For instance, as an active seventeen-year-old high school student, I burn calories faster than Air Force One burns jet fuel. Why should my peers and I change our dietary habits at movie theaters, baseball games, and birthday parties in order to accommodate older, less active citizens who have a harder time losing weight? Sixteen ounces is less than the conventional size of a soda bottle, which I certainly doubt is enough to quench a growing teenager’s thirst.
As a young American, I can vividly remember feeling annoyed when my parents tried to control my diet or advise me to “eat more vegetables.” Ultimately, however, I obliged because I understood that it was their responsibility as parents to impose such restrictions. That is not the function of our government. The fundamental role of government in American society is to protect citizens from external threats, not to protect citizens from themselves. Government should be our bodyguard, not our babysitter.
Teenagers of countless generations have probably heard a variation of the phrase “while you’re under my roof…,” a parent’s way of enforcing their own rules while giving the youth hope that one day they will be independent of such restrictions. However, unlike in previous generations, today’s students cannot look forward to possessing the same freedom and individuality that our predecessors enjoyed in adulthood. Even after leaving our parents’ houses, our business decisions, healthcare, and now even our diet are still to be determined by a third party entity – the government. No wonder one third of American youth feel content moving back in with their parents!
Teenagers and adults alike deserve the freedom to assess their own appearance and, in consultation with a parent or doctor, decide if their habits are unhealthy. It takes an intimate knowledge of that individual patient to determine whether his or her weight is actually dangerous or not. A few hundred employees in City Hall cannot accurately describe patients’ medical risks by simply looking at sheets of statistics. Those documents might not take into account varying heights, degrees of muscle mass, body type, or genetics.
By engaging in central planning and subjecting all citizens to this blanket regulation, Mayor Bloomberg is ignoring the special characteristics that make us all unique. Some citizens are able to eat or drink whatever size of soda they wish without any significant effect on their weight. For them, the only weight that this legislation would reduce would be the scope of their constitutional liberties.
In addition to gobbling up the individual freedoms of private citizens, New York City government has ingested its fair share of revenue, growing fat off taxpayer money and fees. New York City’s budget, the largest municipal budget in the United States, is approximately $61 billion annually and projected to run a $3 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2014. The city employs 250,000 public workers, many of whom are housed in the Municipal Building, one of the largest government office buildings in the world.
Liberal legislators tout the legislation as a method to reduce budget deficits in the face of medical costs linked to obesity-related diseases. That theory assumes that a ban on large sugary drinks would actually have a significant effect on improving people’s health when cakes, candy, smaller soda sizes, Twinkies, and other sugary treats all remain unregulated. The ban on large sugary drinks itself is not as dangerous as the precedent it establishes. A government that is able to ban drinks of a certain size to preserve health could theoretically impose a moratorium on each of the goods mentioned above for the same purpose.
Also, the ban’s efficicacy is doubtful. If someone loves sugary drinks enough to risk his own health, being forced to order two smaller sizes instead of one large one would probably not be much of a hindrance to his soda consumption.
Finally, New York City government has no obligation to cover the medical costs of obese, needy citizens other than the moral obligation that they impose upon themselves. If you offer a free good, such as medical coverage, to people, they are likely to abuse that service because they have no incentive to reduce the cost. In order to make obese citizens take responsibility for their own health and weight, maybe New York City legislators should stop forcing everyone else in the city to make sacrifices and instead impose strict guidelines on the recipients of government funds.
The most obese resident in New York City today is her government, presided over by the Mayor himself. Bloomberg’s new ban on sixteen-ounce sugary drinks would no doubt grow that sizeable bureaucracy even further, giving more taxpayer money to an already bloated government. Who really needs a diet– the private citizen buying a soda with his own dime or the city’s municipal establishment, growing fat at the expense of her citizens’ money and freedoms?
The answer is simple. Bring the Big Gulp back to The Big Apple!
Written by Evan Draim.