Appeals court overrules NYC Food Fascists: big sodas are back!

A while back New York City banned the sale of all sugary soft drinks larger than 16 fluid ounces (about 0.5 liters) on the grounds of health. It was supposed to keep city residents from getting fat, or getting diabetes.

At the time I protested loudly, saying that the government had no right to police people’s food intake, regardless of the motivation. For if you do that, where do you stop? Do you ban double cheeseburgers? What about doughnuts: should you not be allowed to buy more than two? After all, there are lots of food items far worse for you than a 20-ounce soda.

And I remember being given pushback by some readers who thought it was just fine for the government to do this. (My post on this in May of 2012 got 163 comments!) After all, it may improve public health (I’m not sure there’s evidence for that vis-à-vis big sodas), but if we’re going the health route we should also ban alcohol, which causes far more deaths than do sodas. Or, at least sell alcohol only in bottles no larger than the tiny ones you get on airplanes, which used to be the law in Utah restaurants.

Well, I’m happy to see that the courts agree with me. According to the New York Times, an appeals court just overruled the soda ban put into effect under Mayor Bloomberg:

In a 20-page opinion, Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the New York State Court of Appeals wrote that the city’s Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” in enacting the proposal, which was championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Judge Pigott wrote that the complexity of the proposal and its reach into the everyday lives of millions meant that the City Council ought to address it instead.

The ruling was a major victory for the American soft-drink industry, which had fought the plan. Two lower courts had already ruled against the city, saying it overreached in trying to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

The court’s 4-to-2 decision could also have larger implications for city agencies like the Board of Health in their ability to generate high-profile initiatives that can withstand legal challenges.

. . . in the majority opinion, Judge Pigott drew a sharp distinction between the soda proposal and past initiatives of the board, such as banning trans fats in restaurants. He wrote that those earlier policies had a more direct link to the health of the public and represented “minimal interference with the personal autonomy” of New Yorkers.

Of course the soft-drink industry lobbied hard against the ban, for they profit from big sodas. But just because I agree with those capitalists (I drink only diet sodas) doesn’t mean that the ban was appropriate. And, in fact, there were a number of loopholes:

Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal, which polls showed was opposed by a majority of New Yorkers, set off a global debate over soda consumption. It also prompted panic among powerful beverage companies, who feared that their products could be widely branded as a threat to public health.

Questions about the workability of the plan were raised from the start. Because of jurisdictional quirks, not all businesses involved with selling food and beverages would have been affected. The rules would have covered places like fast-food franchises, delis and movie theaters, but convenience stores and grocery markets would have been exempt. And while the limits would have applied to a broad menu of popular drinks, there were many exceptions, including milkshakes, fruit juices and alcoholic beverages.

Look, if you’re going to ban sodas larger than 12 ounces, you should also ban the sale of more than 5 cigarettes at a time, or ban them altogether. Or get rid of six-packs of beer, so that you have to buy them no more than two cans at a time. Once you decide to police people’s diets, it doesn’t stop. Even if it does have a marginal increase in health, it also erodes our freedoms. Why not ban red meat altogether? That’s not only bad for health, but bad for Earth.

The argument against that is that people simply like burgers and beer, and it’s a strain on society to ban them. Well, when I have my occasional burger and fries, I like a very large soda* to wash them down with. Who is New York to tell me that I can’t have it?

*(I used to drink non-diet sodas.)

Get fuzzy

From Get Fuzzy (h/t: reader Mark)

 

184 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    While visiting PA once, I stopped at a beer store for a 6 pack. They would only sell a full case of 24 which I certainly didn’t want for my one day stay. I ended up with no beer. Did the state of PA plan it that way?

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      You can buy six-packs at bars. But things are changing – beer’s starting to become available at a few gas/convenience places, too. I imagine that will continue to expand.

    • bobsgutarshop
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      I think so as my dad and I had a similar experience while visiting PA about 20 years ago.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      The inconsistency of liquor laws from state to state stems from the end of Prohibition. Basically, most everything related to alcohol commerce was put in the hands of the states.

      People who come from places where there are no state stores at all, like NJ, think it’s weird to find state stores in places like VA and PA. But having come from VA and now living in PA, here’s the difference. In VA, I can go to a drug store and buy wine, but I’d go to a state agency to transfer title to an automobile. Here in PA, I have to go to a state store for wine, but if I want to transfer a car title I go to Swanson’s Pharmacy, which does a brisk business in title services.

  2. eric
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Once you decide to police people’s diets, it doesn’t stop

    I don’t think the slippery slope argument is very good here, because clearly you can stop at a middle point. The regulation of trans fats is one example, alcohol regulation is another.

    Having said that, I agree with you that this ordinance or law was pretty stupid. If the city wants to cut down on consumption of some specific product, they should do it the old-fashioned way and just tax it.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      We can argue that we have to protect consumers from food industry that wants to sell sugar/fat etc…
      See this new report-

      Added Sugar, Subtracted Science
      How Industry Obscures Science and Undermines Public Health Policy on Sugar

      http://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/sugar-industry-undermines-public-health-policy.html

      • eric
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        I started reading your link; what a lousy counter-argument. Its all unsuppored assertion of behaviors which are legal, albeit underhanded/slimy. You mean that they…gasp…lobby? Say it isn’t so! Oh, what a world, what a world!

        There are many ways to “protect” consumers from their bad choices. Education. Pricing. Other incentivization of good choices. Not every negative behavior is best reduced or eliminated by a law banning it. It is difficult for me to see a need to legally restrict sugar intake when the rest of the world has significantly lower sugar intake without any such law(s).

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

          I agree that education is the proper way to go. It is (slowly) working for tobacco consumption. Not everyone will make good choices after being educated but that is then their informed personal choice.

          I gave up all soda (regular and diet) several years ago, after learning about empty calories and tooth enamel erosion. Now my biggest weakness is baked goods.

          • eric
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

            I gave it up about a year ago myself, to help me lose weight (hasn’t worked, but I have very little regrets).

            But even though I don’t drink sodas, I think others should have the right to to do so.

          • Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

            How about putting pictures of grotesquely obese people on soda?

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

              To entice grotesquely obese customers? 😉

        • Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

          Eric:

          I doubt your last statement is a valid argument of any kind.
          This is to assume that in the States we can spontaneously copy behaviors of other cultures. I personally doubt it. The culture here, with all the beliefs generated by nearly 2 1/2 centuries of Constitutional rights, is unique.

          The astonishment of many foreigners visiting the States for the first time, Italians, Germans, Frenchmen, is “How strange, every thing is sweet here, they know only one major taste, they put sugar in every food, in every condiment, whatever it is.”

          And there’s an interesting book to read, regarding any international comparison of diets and health.
          It was written by an American dentist, Weston Price, who took it upon himself to investigate, the old-fashioned way, with his soles, the relationship of diet and health in 14 foreign countries, instead of simply stating arguments in the air, as if on Hyde Park corner.
          He wrote a book in the 30s called:
          “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” http://www.amazon.com/Nutrition-Physical-Degeneration-Weston-Price/dp/0916764206/ref=cm_rdp_product.

          Probably Michael Bloomberg read that book as a kid, and never forgot it.

          • eric
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

            The culture here, with all the beliefs generated by nearly 2 1/2 centuries of Constitutional rights, is unique.

            AFAIK our obesity epidemic is less than 60 years old, and has to do with our lifestyles getting more sedentary due to modern conveniences, as well as our food choices. Heck, granulated sugar and sugar cubes didn’t even exist until the late 1800s; before that, sugar was sold in large loaves. So no, it’s not some part of our unique 250-year-old American lifestyle. Its much younger and much less a part of our cultural heritage than that.

            • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              You misunderstood me.
              I was mentioning the psychological habits and the mental fashioning of a new country, not the specific technological environment, whether sugar was recent, and 10′ wide video screens only a couple of years old.

  3. Dominic
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Well I suppose that you have a point in a country where there is no national health service, but I think people who want to self-inflict harm – & yes, sugar is very bad (I speak as a consumer of it!) – should be free to do that as long as I do not have to pay for their obesity/diabetes etc as a tax payer. The US situation is perhaps different because of that.

    This should be the article – just out – no time to read it myself…!
    Obesity, Liberty, and Public Health Emergencies
    Jonathan Herington, Angus Dawson andHeather Draper

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hast.350/abstract

    • Darth Dog
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      It seems like you are going to a very dangerous place with that argument. If the fact that taxpayers foot the bill for your health problems gives them the right to regulate your diet, it seems that could extend to other things as well. Do we need a law that requires adequate daily exercise? How about a law requiring eight hours of sleep? A ban on high stress jobs?

      • Dominic
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        Why not!

        • Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of STDs. Should there be a law against that?

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            Yes, please make STDs illegal. 😊

            • Diane G.
              Posted June 28, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

              LOL!

          • Dominic
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

            One would be nice… :)

      • Darth Dog
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        …because we value personal freedom?

    • eric
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      Yes I agree with Darth. Helping to pay for other people’s problems is in some sense a basic “price for civilization.” You can’t reasonably or rationally expect to get all the benefits of living in a community of other humans but never have to help deal with other humans’ problems. I’m not trying to make an argument for full-on communism here; we can certainly draw a line somewhere in the middle between ‘bad behavior’ costs we are collectively responsible for vs. ‘bad behavior’ costs we are individually responsible for. However, it is naive to think that the former category ever could be or should be zero. Any free society is going to have at least some behaviors which people have the freedom to do BUT YET you must pay for them as a taxpayer.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Taxing is just another revenue stream. I don’t think the government necessarily looks to save people from the carcinogenic effects of smokes and booze when they tax it. They enjoy the cash flow or they’d just outright ban them.

      I would rather see government reduce the costs of non-processed foods like fruits and vegetables. It is silly that it is much cheaper to eat crappy food than good food and when I was poor, I longed to just be able to enter a grocery store & buy what I wanted (which I can now so I guess I’ve arrived, huzzah).

      I’d also like more education given around how bad too much sugar can be, etc.

      Having said all that – you can pry my sugar away from my cold, dead hands. It’s my only real vice!

      • darrelle
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        “They enjoy the cash flow or they’d just outright ban them.”

        Sometimes that happens, bans that is. But they often have costs that are considered by many to be much higher than not banning whatever it is. For example bans on sex (religious orgs like the RCC), alcohol (prohibition in the US), and recreational drugs (US Drug War).

        Seems better to me to regulate, tax and deal with the struggle of how the revenue gets used rather than to ban.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      It would be nice if medical insurance put more effort into counseling and prevention efforts. I’m not sure there is much free market incentive for it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        There is from a cost savings perspective but I’ve found governments do not like making decisions based on facts & data. They’d prefer to force “facts” to conform to ideology. I think I’m just bitter with my current PM & his totalitarian behaviour toward scientists.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        Gah, MI Blue Cross/Blue Shield constantly rags on about healthy living, healthy lifestyles, healthy eating, healthy blah blah blah healthy blah blah blah healthy blah blah blah…

        It’s not our carrier but it’s a Detroit Tigers advertiser and I hear its lectures between every inning of every Sunday game.

        Our insurance company is constantly sending me notices urging me to sign up at their online sites for healthy lifestyle advice, touting blogs I can read, healthy meal planning tutorials, weight loss courses/challenges I can sign up for, and btw, did I get this or that preventative screening?

        I can’t get away from this stuff.

  4. Jolo
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Professor Coyne, are you in the pay of Big Soda? ;)

  5. Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Remember that we do subsidize poor people (who do consume a lot of junk food) through making sure that they do get free medical care (they can go to emergency rooms and not get charged, and the rest of us pay higher insurance because of that. Also, taxpayers subdizize Medicare for older people who also suffer because of obesity.

    • bobsgutarshop
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      And data indicate that if we had an NHS type of healthcare system in the US, those costs would actually go down.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      I think that was Bloomberg’s motivation with this act – it’s not to our advantage to subsidize the diabetic-related (for instance) costs incurred by the people who guzzle these things. And really, it was pissing in the wind, but it was an attempt to stem the tide.

      Etched in my memory is a guy probably no older than mid-30s, waddling out from a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, with calves as big as my waist, clutching a 64oz (half-gallon!) soda for the road.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        I’ve seen many of those too. But The Big Soda Ban would not have helped people like that to any significant degree. I think the best that can be said about it is that it was an incompetent effort that maybe was inspired by reasonable concerns.

        One of the most important rules concerning the exercise of authority is to never give an order you know won’t be obeyed. That extends quite well to things like The Big Soda Ban.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      Also loss of productivity must be huge.

  6. Karl Heinz
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Here is a good article from the New Yorker on “default bias” which provides a reasonable justification (from a health policy perspective) on the > 16 oz soda ban.

    An alternative would be to more heavily tax sodas (which is already being done to cigarettes).

    But given the diabesity problems (and the lack of money to address those problems) imo we need to do something and not let the “freedom” issue sidetrack us.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Jerry, I’m not sure why someone who doesn’t believe in free will is so hostile to a regulation based on exactly the sort of psychological weakness, empirically demonstrated, that shows we don’t have as much free will as we think.

      • Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        Weakness? If a big soda isn’t available then I can’t get one. What if I have the desire for a big soda? That’s perfectly possible, but if they’re banned then my desire is frustrated.

        If you think all such bans are good, are you in favor of banning double and triple cheeseburgers? After all, you could always order two single cheeseburgers.

        • DV
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          If your desire is frustrated, so what? This is a serious question – by what principle do you hold that desires should not be frustrated?

        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          Yes there is a weakness there, because most people end up buying more soda than they really want, or would have said they wanted, before seeing the price/size list.

          Getting twice as much soda for only a little more is a temptation that most people don’t respond to rationally. It “feels” like money left on the table. Because it’s just sugar water, it’s still profitable to play this trick, which is why it’s so common.

          It’s this form of manipulation that the regulation is trying to address, not actual soda consumption per se.

          That’s why the arguments like “I’ll just order two 16 oz. sodas”, or “I’ll just get a refill” are coming from a very uninformed place. In general people could always do that, and most people didn’t because they really didn’t want that much soda. The slightest barrier to that level of over-consumption frees people from the super-sizing hook.

          A second weakness is, having bought so much, people rationalize their choice post hoc by convincing themselves they really wanted it and drinking all of it. A key part of this second aspect is that we’re talking about containers designed to be consumed in a single sitting. This is why multiple serving, resealable grocery containers need not be addressed by this regulation.

          If not for this second weakness,it might not matter. People would just throw away the excess. But again, our will is not that free. We have statistically predictable, deleterious responses to certain stimuli.

          • Posted June 27, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            The solution to the problem you describe isn’t to ban sales past a certain quantity, but to require that retail soda be sold be volume and prohibit volume discounts.

            That sort of thing isn’t at all unprecedented. There have been other scenarios where retailers have bundled the purchase of popular products with unpopular ones, forcing those who want the popular product to buy the unpopular one they don’t want. I’m pretty sure that type of practice is illegal in must jurisdictions.

            b&

            • jefscott
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

              Your basic argument/meaning in that last post wasn’t clear to me. I would guess we are mostly in agreement, though I’m not sure.

              It is a true statement about reality to say that for millions of people, losing weight will lead to positive health outcomes. It will not alone put them at optimal health, but it can dramatically improve quality of life and increase lifespan. It will not be an effective solution for every unhealthy person, or even some that are classified as overweight on the BMI scale.

              Again, it is one of the most basic and simplest facts of public health that for huge groups of the US population, losing weight by whatever means (exercise, diet, etc) will improve health outcomes. It would be strange, to say the least, to hear an intelligent person in disagreement of this basic fact. If someone was in disagreement, I could only encourage them to read some basic literature on public health, medicine, and biology – in the same way we would encourage a young earth creationist to read some basic geology, evolution, etc.

              • Posted June 28, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                Again, it is one of the most basic and simplest facts of public health that for huge groups of the US population, losing weight by whatever means (exercise, diet, etc) will improve health outcomes.

                Again, you’re conflating the symptoms with the disease.

                “By whatever means” is a recipe and invitation to disaster. All sorts of diseases will cause rapid and dramatic weight loss. There are drugs that will cause all kinds of weight loss. Starvation will cause weight loss — and, make no mistrake, the popular conception of, “diet,” (as in, “go on a”) is exactly that. Cosmetic surgery is unquestionably the fastest means of weight loss there is. And not a single one of those means to weight loss is going to improve health outcomes — quite the contrary.

                In stark contrast, good eating habits combined with good exercise habits (and good sleep habits and the rest I’ve been banging on) will improve health outcomes, with one of those outcomes “oh by the way” being a reduction in excess body fat. Note again that I’m phrasing this as reduction of body fat, not weight loss, as a significant portion of those “huge groups” you mention have a total body weight below ideal, even while having too much body fat.

                Hell, I’m still one of those people, even though my BMI is borderline obese and I’ve got almost no belly left; I still need to gain weight even as I get rid of that last bit of excess body fat. And I’m by no means some elite athlete; all my life I’ve been a pencil-necked geek, going from what I now realize was painfully skinny in school gradually to flabby a ago, and only since then — and this in my mid-40s, mind you — has my body composition gotten to the “not all that bad” range.

                I really can’t stress this enough. “Weight loss by any means” is an incredibly dangerous canard, most especially considering that your “huge groups” take that to mean, “go on a [starvation] diet.”

                Let me try a different tack. If there was a viral epidemic of some sort that caused heart disease and had acne as an ancillary symptom, would you urge people to clear up their complexions “by any means,” or would you urge suitable antivirals?

                And another tack. I’ll argue that excess body fat in and of itself isn’t especially unhealthy. Fat cells are part of the endocrine system and having too much fat means you get certain hormonal imbalances that aren’t all that great, but that’s relatively minor except in extreme cases. The problem isn’t the fat itself; the problem is the lifestyle that causes fat accumulation, and that lifestyle is responsible for all the other much more serious illnesses that you’re trying to address through “weight loss.” But substituting one unhealthy lifestyle that leads to fat gain for another unhealthy lifestyle that leads to weight (including lean body mass) loss isn’t going to make people any healthier. The excess fat is an obvious indicator of a certain very common unhealthy lifestyle, yes. But it’s the lifestyle that’s killing people, not the fat that they accumulate as a result of the lifestyle.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • jefscott
                Posted June 28, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

                I’ll simplify your own message here: there are better and worse ways to lose weight – both in terms of their sustainability as well as the toll it takes on one’s body. Drinking sub-lethal dose of poison will cause you to lose weight. This is not an ideal strategy. I’m not aware of anyone who would argue this strategy for weight loss. Although when you think about it, it’s possible that sub-lethal doses of poison could improve health outcomes for certain conditions. In cancer, we call this chemotherapy. There are certain conditions with severe enough risks that even non-optimal or potentially harmful strategies have a statistical expectation of improved outcomes. This is the reason why it’s true to say that there’s a subset of people for which weight loss surgery is beneficial. Your statement that “surgery cannot improve health for obese people” is absolutely nonsensicle. Only someone who hasn’t considered any of the evidence can say this. What we can say is that there may be more optimal strategies.

                You argument is flawed in this basic sense because you appear to assume that only the most optimal strategies can improve health outcomes. This is false. Of course we try to encourage optimal strategies as a practical matter – and yet it is still true that non-optimal strategies are better than nothing.

                You are also confused, or unaware of some very basically biology and physiology. Your basic argument is that it is the lifestyle of obese people which hurts people, not the fat itself. It is true that lifestyles which leads to obesity is unhealthy for a number of reasons, including lack of exercise, deficiency of good nutrition, etc.

                But excess fat itself really does hurt us. I can only encourage you read some information on the basic consequences of too much fat. An easy-to-understand and intuitive one that comes to mind – having too much weight on you is really hard on joints, tendons, etc. Heart problems from obesity result from many factors, but one of them is because it’s hard to pump blood through 300 or 400 pound person. Again, some basic biology reading will help understand some of the direct effects of fat on the body. There are many, many poor outcomes that result directly from too much fat.

                Again, none of this suggest that losing excess fat itself guarantees, or is even predicted, to produce optimal health. But it is still true to say it would improve quality of life and lifespan for millions of people. This is a very simple and empirical fact.

              • Posted June 28, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

                By your continued obsession with weight loss, especially the way you ignore the direct metabolic results of malnutrition and the seriousness of the importance of maximizing lean body mass, I can only conclude that I’m simply not going to get through to you.

                So I’ll leave it here with a final summary.

                To Hell with weight loss.

                Eat well, exercise well, and sleep well to be well — and, oh-by-the-way, you’ll very likely gain weight whilst changing body composition and reducing if not eliminating excess body fat, which exactly what you want for maximum wellness.

                Obsess about weight, most especially weight loss by any means, only if you want to be sick.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • jefscott
                Posted June 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                I can only encourage you to read more carefully. I’ve stated, as almost all nutrition experts do, that for obese people weight loss is an important component – of many things – they can do to improve health outcomes. For more optimal health outcomes, we want to include exercise, nutrition, etc.

                The reason for my perceived focus on weight loss was only to correct your fundamental and basic misunderstanding about biology and health science. You make one absurd and false claim after the other – like stating that weight loss for obese people does not have positive health outcomes. This is incorrect. Again, to improve those outcomes we want to include other strategies as well.

                As someone with some expertise in this field, I have spent time trying to help you understand the basic factual inaccuracies of your statement. Again, if you read more carefully, hopefully you will see your misstatements and in doing so gain an opportunity to learn a few valuable points. .

      • bobsgutarshop
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        Let’s try a different perspective. I apologize for the lack of a direct citation here but I heard an interview with an addiction treatment specialist on NPR about three years ago and her interview focused mainly on the fact that it is the illegality of the drugs themselves and not the medically harmful nature of addiction, that have the most pernicious effects on the lives of addicts. Even when done with the best of intentions, prohibition often creates more problems than it solves.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          …prohibition often creates more problems than it solves.

          A lesson we continue to ignore on many subjects. :-)

          • Karl Heinz
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            Except this isn’t prohibition.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

              Nope, it’s just impractical.

              • Kevin
                Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                Awesome. It is prohibition and it is impractical.

                Sodas are not the problem.

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Another alternative would be to ban advertisement for such drinks or put shocking images on the bottles like they do it for cigarettes.

      • eric
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Seeing “35g sugar” on a 12-oz soda label is a shocking image to me. But then again, I suspect that I grasp how much a gram is better than most americans.

        The shocking information is already there for us to see, we just refuse to pay attention to it. Though I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to having a more visually striking “molehill” of sugar illustrated on the label, so that people could more intuitively see how much sugar is in each can/bottle.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        I have a pathological fear of cellulite. If you showed me dimpled up skin, I might listen! :)

  7. Jim Knight
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Interesting that the presiding judge is named “Pigott,” awfully close to “pig out.” I wonder how much trash he took as a kid with that name..?

  8. Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    My frustration as a diet soda drinker is that there is usually very little choice for me at the soda fountain. Often I will approach a fountain that has twelve or more choices, but the only sugar-free choices are diet cola, or water. Perhaps there should be incentives offered to weight the fountains in favor of low-sugar choices, rather than limiting the serving size.

    • eric
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Look for the unsweetened ice tea in the big steel container next to the soda fountain. Nowadays, they are a staple at most of the restaurants where you’ll find a DIY soda fountain.

      • Susan
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        I respectfully disagree. “Facts” about what food is or is not healthy changes frequently. A few years back, eggs were unhealthy, then all fats, then just some fats, and maybe salt, and red meat, but pork is white meat. Etc. Etc. Etc. There is current research that shows diet drinks might be worse for you than sugary drinks. I wouldn’t want current diet fads placed into law or regulation. Companies should be required to publish factual information about their food. People can decide what to do with the info.

        • Susan
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          Oops. I have no idea how my response to a completely different post was duplicated here. Please disregard, unless PCC is kind enough to delete it.

      • Susan
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        I agree on unsweetened ice tea. The coffee place that sells venti iced mochas also sells quite tasty unsweetened black iced tea. This is how I turned a daily iced mocha habit into a three out four times a year iced mocha habit.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          I get the unsweetened iced tea when I am at Five Guys with my double cheeseburger and the best (greasy) French fries in the world.

          I only go there once or twice a year.

          • DV
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

            I get the smallest burger at Five Guys then load up on the peanuts.

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

              I put the peanuts in the empty french fry bag and take them home to eat later.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      It was in the news in the UK as well this week – well water over juice for children –

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-28022948

      Feeding children junk food is bad –
      Dietary patterns at 6, 15 and 24 months of age are associated with IQ at 8 years of age

      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10654-012-9715-5

  9. jesse
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    For me, the most interesting thing about this topic is that in the U.S., (non-diet) sodas are now made with high-fructose corn syrup which has quite a bit of health controversy. They used to be made with sugar. In my opinion, this is where American industry is doing a disservice to its consumers.

    It’s my understanding that the two sweeteners are metabolized differently.

    (I can also say that the sodas made with corn syrup are not as satisfying to my palate. So I have actually voluntarily stopped drinking it, to my benefit I’m sure.)

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I heard a radio ad the other day for Pepsi made with real sugar. I think the bad press that high fructose corn syrup is getting is putting pressure on soda companies to go back to sugar.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Every year around Passover, Coca-Cola has soda with sugar because corn syrup is not kosher for Passover. It does taste quite different.

        • jesse
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Yes indeed soda made with sugar does taste quite different from that made with HF Corn Syrup. I used to love Coke and Pepsi but it fell out of favor to me around age 40-45. I thought it was just age.

          But then a few yrs. ago I was given a small can of Coke that had been brought over from England and it was delicious! I looked at the label and saw it was made with sugar.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

            That’s why regular coke tastes horrible now! Growing up, I thought it was ok and figured I just now hated it because I always drink diet coke (which apparently is evil because of aspartame).

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

          Man! For realz sugar in coke & yummy grapey Manischewitz! Everyday should be Passover!

    • Dan
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      High fructose corn syrup is not much different than table sugar. Table sugar is 50% fructose, while the high fructose corn syrup used in soda is ~55% fructose, so the differences in metabolism is very overblown. Fructose is sweeter than sucrose, so you need less sugar, and less calories, for a similar sweetness. (Also, blind taste tests have not shown that most people prefer sucrose flavored soda to high fructose flavored soda).

      • Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Absolutely correct.

        The evil from HFCS comes not from its metabolic effects, but its economic effects. It’s damned cheap. That, combined with the insane fat-is-evil kick started by the Nixon administration, has resulted in a dramatic shift away from fats towards sugar as a primary source of calories. And fat is much more satiating than sugar…most people could chug a quart of apple juice without problem, but almost nobody could chug a quart of olive oil. As a result, total calories have skyrocketed with all the extra calories coming from sugar.

        If it had been a super-cheap production method of cane sugar as opposed to HFCS, we would have been in the same pickle.

        b&

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          You’re correct, I prefer sipping my quart of olive oil. When I chug it, it drips onto my goatee.

      • jesse
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Thanks for mentioning this Dan. I have been listening to too much NPR and Public Television : ) It does appear that it’s the increased consumption of all sugars in general that are the health problem in the U.S.

    • Jeff L
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      My daughter who’s grown up with the corn syrup sodas doesn’t like the ones made with cane sugar. She thinks they have a funny aftertaste. I suppose taste is an awful lot of what you’re used to.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted June 28, 2014 at 12:22 am | Permalink

        Chacun à son goût. De gustibus non est disputandum. Etc.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Each person, I think, responds differently to how sugar and HFCS affect how one feels.

      A high performance athlete will have a preference for one rather than the other depending on how they are training. Alcohol, too, conveys a similar effect to sugar, and people who are attuned to their bodies understand changes to their metabolism that make them want one substance to another.

      Most people are not scientists when it comes to how they recognize what food does to them. It is too bad, it is one of the most important parts of our lives and it is the area each of us should be particularly scientific about.

  10. Stonyground
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    We have food fascists in the UK as well.

    http://www.longrider.co.uk/blog/2014/06/26/we-have-a-target/

    Longrider uses rather blunter language than Jerry does.

  11. DV
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    This should not be a tough one. The state should be able to make regulations that curb people’s behaviors that are harmful to themselves. If the state can ban driving without a seatbelt, it should be able to ban overconsumption of sugary drinks.

    • Aelfric
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      DV–You’re quite right that the State could ban Big Gulps. This case does NOT stand for the proposition that the state could not take such action; rather, it stands for the proposition that the New York City Board of Health can’t take such action. If you’ll read the decision (which I hope will be linked in a comment of mine below) you’ll see that the main issue was not so much the substantive ban on big sodas, but rather, a division of powers argument about the authority of the New York City Board of Health.

    • Susan
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      I respectfully disagree. “Facts” about what food is or is not healthy changes frequently. A few years back, eggs were unhealthy, then all fats, then just some fats, and maybe salt, and red meat, but pork is white meat. Etc. Etc. Etc. There is current research that shows diet drinks might be worse for you than sugary drinks. I wouldn’t want current diet fads placed into law or regulation. Companies should be required to publish factual information about their food. People can decide what to do with the info.

      • DV
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        It’s not the type of food that is being judged as bad, but the quantity of a type of food.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Regulating the quantity of a sugary beverage makes no sense, especially since any individual could in principle run to Walmart and load up on ten cases of Coke without any legal repercussions.

      Seat belts save lives. And driving without them is a higher risk. That is a fact. But I can drink a lot more soda than most people (even though I do not) and there is little risk of my becoming overweight since I exercise.

      If people want to live healthier lives they would (and have to) do a lot more than constrain they consumption of sodas. Seat belts solve a problem. Restricting soda size or quantity is not solving the problem.

      • DV
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Read Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and all these policies for nudging behavior will suddenly make sense.

        • Kevin
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          I only glanced a the wikipedia article on the book…interesting read. However it does not explain why someone who is remarkably unintelligent and does not care about his/her health and yet chooses not to drink any soda.

          I was once vegetarian for fifteen years (I know, stupid), but it may aware that people’s intelligence, their capacity to make choices is completely uncorrelated to their diet.

          I am presently surrounded by a huge number of smart people who make incredible complex decisions daily and yet they are wildly unhealthy. Why? I really have no idea. I think it must be stress related and not much to do with capacity calculated judgements.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            Well, as a smoker ( not recommended! ) I can only say that it has everything to do with instant gratification and nothing to do with health-related judgements.

            Most of the smokers I know including yours truly started young and often well before we were legally supposed to be able to buy them. Aside from the very short feeling of enjoyable lightheadedness when inhaling for the very first couple of times, our reason for keeping it up was largely social.

            But before you know it the nicotine’s got you by the short and curlies and quitting is kind of a bith, although a breeze compared to other legal substances such as alcohol.

            If we want people to fundamentally change their soda consumption a good start might be a severe image change for that particular beverage, compareable to that which has occured to tobacco during recent times.

            Restrictions are fine to a certain extent, but prohibition always entails a niche waiting to be exploited by dubious organizations. Where there’s a demand, there’s always a supply.

            • Kevin
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

              I tried skoal for one week non-stop…ooh goodies…that is a precious high. I understand the plight of smokers. Somehow I think I am one of those fortunate people who can try things that are addictive to others but somehow do not have the same effect on me. Maybe I get bored too easily and want to move on.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                Not to exempt myself from the responsibility of my own actions, I do doubt I would have continued smoking had it not been the “rebellious” thing our group did, banal as it may sound. We did it because it was kind of cool in certain circles at that age.

                The oxymoronical thing about smoking is that your body’s initial response is that of immense displeasure. We’ve not evolved to breathe smoke and you had to force yourself to inhale it despite your bodily reflexes.

                Had any of us been on our own or maybe in another group, I doubt we would have continued to smoke long enough for the nicotine addiction to kick in. We might have tried it once, but that would probably have been it.

            • Diane G.
              Posted June 28, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

              Funny how smoking sort of brings us full circle. I took up smoking in college in 1969 to help with weight control.

              I quit in ’79. Then I had to turn to eating disorders for weight control…

              Conquered those in the early 80’s.

              Becoming a parent (first in 1985) was a lasting incentive to grow up and start eating/living the way I always knew I should have been.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted June 29, 2014 at 12:30 am | Permalink

                Becoming a parent seems to be the clincher for many smokers.

                Having someone else to live for certainly would do it for me, I hope. :-)

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 29, 2014 at 12:38 am | Permalink

                Yeah, you discover you have to set an example. Which can be kind of a drag! (Heh, heh.)

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted June 29, 2014 at 12:44 am | Permalink

                :-)

                I have no kids, but my motto when I worked as a temp in a couple of kindergartens was “Do as I say, not as I do.”

                Didn’t work.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 29, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

                You just can’t maintain eating disorders into your 30s and 40s and live a normal looking life. I swear my nana had an eating disorder into her old age though.

  12. Aelfric
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    As a New York attorney, I feel compelled to point out that the New York Court of Appeals is, in fact, the highest state court we have. It is equivalent to the “Supreme Court” of most other states (in New York, “Supreme Court” is actually the lowest level of the State Court system–don’t ask). The article itself says this, and Professor Coyne probably knew, but I wanted to make it explicit. Also, the full decision (and dissent) is available here: https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2014/Jun14/134opn14-Decision.pdf While I tend to think the right decision was reached, the dissent makes some very good points.

  13. Rich
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    If I understand the decision correctly, the ban was overturned because it was a rule, passed by the administration. If it has been passed by the legislature, I believe it would have stood.

    So, it’s not so much the food nazis, and the wrong food nazis …

    • Aelfric
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Rich, you are absolutely right, but it wasn’t “the administration” making the rule, but the New York City Board of Health. Otherwise you are spot on.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Regardless it is poor thought that goes into such bans. People have a knee jerk reaction to thinking, “Well, let’s just get rid of this stupid opportunity to waste your body with excess calories. That has got to help. Right?” These people have no clue about human nature.

  14. Greg Esres
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Seems like I’ve read a number of studies that show that diet sodas are no better than non-diet sodas in regards to weight loss.

    I never thought the soda ban would be effective…it would probably just lead to two-for-one sales and then some sort of carrier to allow you to easily transport the drinks.

    Personally, I’ve never understood the soda addiction. I’ll drink them with meals, but once I’ve finished eating, I stop drinking. The servers all seem to want me to get to-go cups, which is a bit annoying. Why would I that?

    • David Duncan
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      “Seems like I’ve read a number of studies that show that diet sodas are no better than non-diet sodas in regards to weight loss.”

      That seems counterintuitive, although I’ve heard the same sorts of stories, usually third hand.

      “Personally, I’ve never understood the soda addiction. I’ll drink them with meals, but once I’ve finished eating, I stop drinking.”

      I stop drinking when I’m no longer thirsty. Sometimes I crave the fizz of soft drink, sometimes the acid of Apple or orange juice, sometimes milk, sometimes the goodness of milky tea. And after an hour mowing the lawn and doing work in the garden a couple of largers don’t touch the side.

      I’m just as happy with diet soft drink taste wise, I can’t really tell the difference, and I don’t need all those calories.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I too have heard them from athletes who are interested in exactly what calorie composition maximizes their performance and recovery during training.

      This would certainly support the theory that drinking sodas is not the foundation of the problem: it is a lifestyle issue that involves more factors than just the over consumption of a beverage.

  15. beanfeast
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    Would you also have opposed the UK’s introduction of restrictions on selling paracetamol (acetaminophen) in larger pack sizes because of the risk of overdose it poses to a small number of people every year? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21370910

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Beanfeast:

      That is a pioneer decision. Taken by the UK gov’t or its agency, if I recall. Paracetamol/acetaminophen is a proven insidious poison on which it’s too easy to overdose.

      Many aging people cannot go through the day without large doses of the drug. You can spot them at the local drugstore, loading up on their supply.
      Now, one can say, who cares if they destroy their liver, they’re old and going to croak any time, right?
      But that’s a matter that concerns all the people in the country.
      It’s interesting to see which other countries are going to follow suit.

  16. Susan
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I see this as the difference between the case against tobacco companies and fast food. The tobacco companies lied about what was (is) in their products, and intentionally manipulated nicotine levels so that the products marketed to people most interested in quitting (eg low tar) were the most addictive. On the other hand, while fast food is generally unhealthy, there are no pervasive claims that companies are lying about what’s in the food.

    Companies should be required to provide accurate information about the products they sell. But, it is my responsibility to make my own decisions with that knowledge.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 28, 2014 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Hear, hear.

  17. Karl Heinz
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    So if it wrong for the govt to ban > 16 oz sodas (and you can still drink 32 oz or more, you just have to buy 2-16 oz drinks) then it is also wrong for govt agricultural subsidy policies that encourage corn production, and all the hfcs.

    But where is the freedom brigade on that topic?

    • eric
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Your argument is a complete non-sequitur to me. Could you explain why you think the freedom brigade’s “ban on A bad” opinion rationally requires them to also take the opinion “subsidy of B bad?”

      • Karl Heinz
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        How is it a complete non-sequitar when govt policies helped create the problem in the first place, and govt policies are designed to lessen the harm in the second place?

        And you can have your “big soda”. Just buy 2-16 ouncers. The default bias angle is a very good one.

  18. Mobius
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Ban double cheeseburgers?!?

    Are you insane???

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the article based on a misunderstanding? It isn’t the pack size that primarily affect people’s behavior, AFAIK.

    It is the serving portion that is problematic (super sized drinks, plates, et cetera). People tend to eat up to 30 % more (IIRC). That can be the margin between healthy and unhealthy eating right there.

    Also, this isn’t ‘fascism’. Fascism is a non-democratic state rule. These types of bans is the effect of voting for politicians that listen to research (if perhaps not effectively so).

    At the time I protested loudly, saying that the government had no right to police people’s food intake, regardless of the motivation.

    What human rights and freedoms would that encroach? They do it all the time over here when it is suitable, same as they regulate traffic behavior or beaches that are safe to use.

    For example, there are import foods of rare animals forbidden, they frown on people eating other people even when unrelated dead, they prohibit contaminated food and, yes, they tend to regulate unhealthy food. Besides the moral part, don’t sit idle when people harm themselves, the health cost becomes a tax burden on the abstainers.

    I don’t think large sodas are regulated, but I can see that coming if they hurt people. Other regulation is taxes (hasn’t Denmark a fat tax?) et cetera.

  20. Peter Gruett
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I thought the 7-11 down the street looked unusually busy.

  21. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Jerry, you’ve missed the boat on this one – big style.

    Read: THALER – SUNSTEIN: Nudge. (methink Thaler is at UCh, ask him).

    The purpose of banning the big sizes is not to stop people from drinking too much, if they explicitly so wish: after all, no one is stopping them from ordering two, or refills.

    Most people order “automatically,” choosing an “average” size of drink. If the span of options is reduced, the “average” automatically is less. Consequently, all these middling people drink less. It is social psychology at work.

    What one is after is population, not individual behavior. What one wants is “good enough” outcome over all behaviors, not total compliance.

    This is called “nudging” – pointing people in the right direction, without ordering them to behave. It is a bit paternalistic but, when it works, it’s great.

    Another, scurrile, instance is the fly painted in the middle of the urinal. People automatically aim for it, and don’t pee outside. Very successful.

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your patronizing comment that I’ve missed the boat. The purpose is to stop people from drinking too much, for it keeps those who would order more from so doing. And I don’t agree with the idea of such “nudging”, which can, after all, be used to ban double cheeseburgers.

      In the future please don’t tell the proprietor that he’s “missed the boat big time.” That’s just rude.

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Aldo:

      This is what Daniel Kahneman illustrates in his recent book “Thinking Fast & Slow”.
      It’s the effect of “anchoring”. Once you put a number on the table in any matter of judgment, or choice, this number is going to influence the result, most of the time subconsciously, automatically, and irresistibly.
      Once the number (size, price, quantity, etc.) is loaded in memory, it is part of the nexus of connotations affecting the final judgment. Ex: speed limit on the highway, asking price in a house purchase negotiation.

      • DV
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Exactly right!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Anchoring is the reason we use Planning Poker to estimate effort in Agile Software Development. :)

        • Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          Consider yourself lucky. Where I work, “Why haven’t you finished yet?” later that morning is the Alpha and Omega of project estimation….

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

            That sucks!

            • Posted June 28, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

              To be fair, the scheduling protocol is, “Squirrel!” Estimates don’t matter at all. Just keep working on whatever the most recent squirrel happened to be until the next squirrel comes along, at which point it simply doesn’t matter how much progress you had or hadn’t made on the previous squirrel.

              It would suck if my goal was creating amazing new things, or if the pay were bad. But my goal is collecting a paycheck, and the pay is good, so I’m more than happy to be inefficient according to the whims of management. Especially since management is very happy with our “responsiveness.” If they’re happy and signing the invoices, how can I possibly be less than thrilled?

              b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 28, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

            BTW, you might find this article about estimation interesting.

            • Posted June 28, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

              Interesting article, indeed. On the verbose side, but perhaps that style is needed to communicate to that group of readers.
              And a good corroboration of Kahneman’s explanations.
              It’s also a good example of how to defeat anchoring in open debates when the most vocal, or most opinionated participant, tends to influence every body else’s opinion. For instance, the role of leaders in parties, or opinion groups.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 28, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

                It is very typical for developers as well and the overconfidence estimate happens a lot. I find with myself I tend to estimate too much time where developers with estimate too little.

              • Posted June 28, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                I think a big part of the reason people tend to underestimate is that they don’t include overhead in their time estimates. Indeed, I suspect that the typical estimate is probably pretty spot-on, if you only count the time spent typing. But add in the time it takes to mentally untangle things, the time spend on required company communication (logging, email, meetings, etc.), time for breaks, time to get back in the groove after an interruption…none of that goes into estimates, which is why people tend to suck at them.

                It’s like planning your cross-country road trip based on a cruising speed of 65 MPH (or whatever you drive at), and estimating that it should take you just under two days to get from New York to San Francisco. Sure, you might maybe rack up under 48 hours of time behind the wheel (though probably not), but I guarantee you it’s going to be more than two days from the time you wake up in New York to the time you go to bed in San Francisco. Indeed, anything less than six days is going to be reckless — and you’ll be much, much happier if you take at least two full weeks for the trip, with a month or three being not at all unreasonable if you can afford it. Quite a difference from under two days, eh?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • darrelle
                Posted June 28, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                I once drove from Ft. Hood Texas to Ventura California in 28 hours. In the wee hours in the high desert near Edwards AFB I began having hallucinations. Kids playing in the middle of the highway, trees suddenly growing rapidly right in the middle of the road like Jack And The Beanstalk. A very interesting experience.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Nudging or regulating or admonishing other is not a solution for making people eat or drink less. Give them the ability to think for themselves and they will make the right choices, even if they are difficult to make.

      Regulation avoids a critical part of the human condition: exercise and diet are not easy. We are biologically tied to ancestors who could kick our asses and yet we live in society that makes it easy to become a tub or lard.

      • DV
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        I think you would change your opinion if you availed yourself of information from recent decades of research in psychology. Humans are not as rational as classically thought.

        • Kevin
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          But regulation (restrictions) is not the answer. You can tax the drinks; at least society can have some ability to recover ill effects that sodas may or may not cause.

          I have faith that people are capable of more rational thought than they have been given credit.

          • DV
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

            “Faith” is the correct word, as the evidence doesn’t support that belief.

            • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

              DV:

              Touché!

              Kevin says:
              “Give them the ability to think for themselves and they will make the right choices, even if they are difficult to make.”

              Kevin does not realize that you don’t have to “give” people anything. They already have whatever ability to think for themselves they can use.

              The whole work of Kahneman and thousands of modern psychologists since 1950 is to demonstrate that people tend to often make the wrong choice, and why.

              Whether we like it or not, our brains are loaded with the impressions of a lifetime of experience and all the learning we have accumulated, and that is the baggage we use to make our judgments. We are prompted by what we’ve got. All of our brains are marked by our biases and limited information.

              Kevin is thinking of an ideal brain that has no biological limitations and operates in the abstract.
              It does take a lot of faith to believe in the existence of such a brain.

              Look at the decision to invade Iraq. Hundreds, thousands of some of the best brains in the States pulled their hats together, and look where we are now over there.

              • Kevin
                Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                I would argue that in many cases it does not matter how good our capacity to make decisions has to do with anything.

                Clearly, energy solutions for the world are important and how we, as a civilization, work to find solutions is probably one of the most important problems. How does one fund science? How does one direct the economy to make the most of how humans use energy while preserving our planet?

                Is it possible that taking the majority of government funds and directing them at an organization that builld homes for everyone is a good solution? Or going to Mars? Or building a giant super train that connects major cities around the world? It does not seem like it. But it is so complicated that maybe in twenty years those decisions have a ‘Manhattan Project’-style impact on accruing energy solutions that no one could have predicted.

                You see this in science a lot…people get really upset when a Republican gets into office…they think all of science will end and likewise, they think that a Democrat will just heap loads of cash our way. It never happens that way. And no one solution (decision) is the best solution (decision).

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            “I have faith that people are capable of more rational thought than they have been given credit.”

            1. Never rely on faith.
            2. Capable, possibly, but many are unwilling. Rational thought takes effort.

  22. Jefscott
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Apologies if I misstate, but your general arguments appear to be a combination of: 1. We can’t regulate food because then we will have to regulate ALL unhealthy food and 2: We shouldn’t regulate something when we don’t regulate other things that are worse.

    Respectfully, I think this is poor and flawed logic. First, we already do regulate a range of things we put into our body, and whatever our current level of regulation is, it is by definition some “middle point.” We also know that it‘s impossible to regulate everything. The deeper flaw here seems to be this: we know there is a continuum of unhealthy outcomes for food and non-food items. Your assumption seems to be that we can’t make a logical case for regulating X, but not Y, if we know that Y is worse than X. But this is a fallacy because the value of regulating X does not depend on Y being more or less harmful. No matter what we regulate, there will always be something more harmful that we don’t – either because we‘re unaware of its existence or because it’s impossible to do so.

    As a representation of your argument you ask: “If we ban sodas, then will we ban cheeseburgers too?” It’s worth noting that the ban was on certain sizes of soda, though I don’t think that matters in principal here. If we can show using good empirical evidence that overconsumption of cheeseburgers with ingredients X,Y, and Z, leads to terrible health outcomes (obesity, mortality, depression, etc) then why shouldn’t the government have a role in protecting us from it? At the very least, why should the government not have a role in protecting children? The libertarian argument about having the right to hurt ourselves terribly misapplies to children – and we know there are millions of kids with parents who give them food that really does hurt them. Even as applied to adults this classical libertarian argument is weak, because in our society with a shared infrastructure, your health decisions affect me, and mine you.

    The simple fact is that we already allow the government to regulate in this way – both food and non-food items – although I’m not sure the distinction between the two matters. This includes, alcohol, drugs, smoking, toxins, trans fat, etc. We already know there are severe enough risks of certain things that we cede our right to autonomy in certain respects to a higher institution. Now whether or not the particular ban on soda sizes was useful, or based on good evidence, is up for debate. And knowing the exact effects of food is extraordinarily complex and we don’t yet have a complete understanding. Though someday we probably will. But we are arguing in principle here, and you seem to be against, in principle, the government having the ability to regulate certain domains of food consumption.

  23. Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Unless one is in favor of alcohol and marijuana and tobacco prohibition, no rational argument can be made for sugar prohibition.

    That writ, sugar is metabolized in a very similar manner to alcohol, with the result that a can of beer and a can of soda both do about the same thing to your body outside of your brain. The beer belly is indistinguishable from the sugar belly.

    If you wish to be kind to your body, you’ll limit your sugar intake to about 10 – 15 pounds of sugar per year — typical before the start of the sugar trade in the 18th century — which works out to an average of about a tablespoon (15 grams) per day. Note that a single 12-ounce can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar in it, more than you ideally want to consume over the course of two days. Also note that sugar is added to nearly all pre-packaged and restaurant foods, generally in very large quantities.

    If you enjoy it, by all means, indulge. But either do so in moderation (by limiting quantities or frequency or both), or do so in the knowledge that you’re trading your current happiness for your future health.

    For example, I had some toast with breakfast this morning. The bread I made myself; it’s just wheat and water and yeast and salt, with no sugar. One slice got about half a teaspoon of honey, the other about as much of some apricot and orange jam Mom made. In neither case did the sweets overwhelm the bread; I could taste the sweets, and still taste the bread. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ll be having dinner at a friend’s place, that’d be all the sugar I’d have today. But I do have some halvah in the ‘fridge, and I’ll likely get a pastry from my favorite bakery on my way home from a meeting in a couple weeks; it’s just that I decide how much sugar I want to eat and when, rather than simply blindly add sugar to everything and anything.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Jefscott
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Respectfully, I think your opening analogy obfuscates the terrain here.

      We DO regulate alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. We regulate them heavily and tax them. We recognize that these things have value in them in the sense that we enjoy them. But we also recognize they can be incredibly destructive if abused or misused. This is especially true of children. It is also true in adults in many respects, and so we cede some of our autonomy to a higher institution to protect us from ourselves. We regulate age of consumption, how much can be consumed, where you can buy, who you can do while your using, etc.

      As far I understood, no one suggested banning soda, or sugar, for that matter. They did want to limit the amount in a single purchase, and more generally suggested that the government has a right to regulate domains of food with poor health outcomes the same way it does with alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Whether or not the soda size ban representative good use of medical science, health policy science, I don’t know. But that is a practical issue, and you seem to be arguing against the idea in principle.

      • Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Actually, I would argue that we have excessive regulations concerning alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco.

        Regulations which prevent people causing harm to others are good; reckless endangerment laws should reasonably encompass drunk driving or operating heavy machinery whilst stoned. And, just as workplace safety regulations don’t permit toxic fumes from manufacturing processes entering workers’s lungs, so too should they permit toxic fumes from tobacco smoke entering workers’s lungs. Prevention of consumption of potentially harmful substances by minors is perfectly reasonable as well. And laws against deceptive or misleading advertising or marketing practices are necessary for commerce to function properly.

        But regulations go far beyond those reasonable limits. Blue Laws proliferate, and, in practice, amount to much the same thing as the now-struck-down soda regulations. Marijuana, of course, is a serious federal crime. Tobacco regulations aren’t too far out of line, but there’re plenty who call for prohibition there, too. For that matter, the Morons would likely outlaw caffeine, given a chance.

        I could go along with nutritional regulations of “kid’s menu” meals and school lunches. I’d be all for the Ad Council doing for sugar what they’ve done for tobacco. But I can no more respect restrictions on serving sizes of sugar to adults than I could respect Blue Laws saying when and where and what kind of alcohol you can purchase.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Jefscott
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          These are all very reasonable comments.

          But keep in mind they are practical arguments about exactly which types and how much of certain regulations have value. Your original comment suggested being against, in principle, the government regulating certain domains of food consumption and falsely analogizing that with prohibition. Many people get distracted about the particular merits of (or lack of) the soda size ban and trick themselves into thinking the government shouldn’t be in this space at all.

          Though I do find your suggestion that “regulations go far beyond those reasonable limits” puzzling, at least in the context of food regulation. I don’t know what metric one uses to make that claim, but I do know 1/3 of the US population is classified as obese and another 1/3 overweight. Smart people disagree about the exact numbers, but however you work it we’re talking about 100+ million people with a health status that 1. We factual know results from food and 2. Leads to lower quality and shorter life for millions. As a practical reference, obesity-related deaths in the US is of the same scale as tobacco-related deaths, which is (roughly) an order of magnitude higher than auto-related deaths. So it’s not clear to me exactly which overly-restrictive food regulations people are thinking of when they talk about this space.

          • Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

            As a practical reference, obesity-related deaths in the US is of the same scale as tobacco-related deaths, which is (roughly) an order of magnitude higher than auto-related deaths.

            There’s basically zero correlation between death rates and public policy regulation. If I remember right, domestically in the US, tobacco kills an half a million annually; alcohol an hundred thousand; homicide fifteen thousand; AIDS ten thousand; and terrorism and marijuana zero.

            Regulations on consumption, save for those I already mentioned to prevent harm to bystanders and children, are pretty much guaranteed to be ineffective, unwarranted, and unjustifiable.

            Yes, we should do “something” to curb the obesity epidemic. But “something” does not equate to “anything.” Only if the “something” is safe, effective, and morally justifiable should we do it, and legal prohibitions on consumption fail two of those three prongs.

            What should we do?

            We should stop subsidizing sugar production and start subsidizing fresh produce production. Toss all the vending machines on government property and replace them with produce stands.

            We know exactly how to exercise to achieve top fitness; just look at our special forces soldiers. Nothing is secret or mysterious about it, and literally zero equipment is required. Rather than send soldiers overseas to kill brown people, send them to inner city parks and public recreation centers to provide free fitness training for anybody who wants it. (Or, more practically, offer them well-paying jobs to do so after an honorable discharge.)

            And we should ditch this abomination of the Heritage Foundation’s wet dream for maximizing “healthcare” insurance scam profitability, and just expand Medicare to everybody and be done with it.

            That would do far more to combat the obesity epidemic than the prohibition on serving sizes even theoretically ever could.

            b&

            • Jefscott
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

              If you think we should regulate children and minors from consuming tobacco and alcohol, then you are in favor of consumption-based regulation.

              Everything after that is just a question of when and under which specific circumstances we should do it. I can very well understand that banning soda sizes, as a question of public policy science, would have no effect on obesity/death rates. But again, we are talking about principle here, and one shouldn’t let those facts trick oneself into believing that no public policies related to food consumption are ethical or useful.

              As a theoretical point, I think obfuscates and restricts the conversation to try and talk about certain policies as “consumption based” or “not consumption based.” Everything we can do – economic incentives, taxation, subsidies, etc – are intended to affect consumption. When we are talking about ethics and justification in the domain of government regulation of what we put into our bodies (food and non-food), we are talking about policies that affect consumption.

              And in general, to say that there’s no correlation between public policy and death rates (from activities X,Y,Z via modes X,Y,Z) is to ignore so much of reality across multiple disciplines. This is an absolutely fantastic claim.

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                If you think we should regulate children and minors from consuming tobacco and alcohol, then you are in favor of consumption-based regulation.

                All human societies do and have always had different sets of rules for children and adults, and for very good reasons. As such, your objection is a non-sequitur. Since the rest of your post follows from that starting misconception, there isn’t any point in further replying to it….

                b&

            • Jefscott
              Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              This isn’t an entirely coherent response, and it follows fantastical claims that there’s “zero correlation between death and public policy”

              Many people appear, in principle, to be against “consumption-based” regulations on things like tobacco and alcohol. It’s not hard to point out the inconsistency of this stance if that person also thinks regulating alcohol or tobacco for minors is reasonable.

              To call pointing out this inconsistency a “misconception” or to even label it an “objection” is not entirely coherent, as least as relates to the definition of these words.

              Sometimes arguing in principle is useful. Other times it’s not. Arguing in principle about something for which there are obvious and easily-identifiable exceptions immediately plants a red flag that’s it probably a poor time to do so. So people will say something like “regulation-based policies” don’t work…which is a poor and/or not a useful model in approaching the question “How and when do we regulate certain things to protect people”

              An illustration of this point is with gun control. Many will steadfastly argue in principle we have the right to bear arms, and use this against any restrictions whatsoever on gun ownership. However, pointing out that they don’t think kids or mentally handicap should own weapons cues them into the fact they do actually think the government should regulate guns. They just disagree on the exact circumstances.

              People who argue that “consumption-based” can’t work make a similar type of principled-based fallacy.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        There would not have to be a ban in the first place if people showed self-restraint.

        I do not drink sodas, so I am definitely not directly threatened by any regulation, but the regulation is not even attempting to solve the problem.

        People are lazy and infantile when it comes to avoiding their addiction to sugar. Why am I not? There is no reason why other people cannot avoid over-consumption of food and regulation will not solve that problem.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 28, 2014 at 12:30 am | Permalink

          This is the argument from genetics, isn’t it? Or from Free Will?

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted June 28, 2014 at 1:19 am | Permalink

            LOL. I gotta get me some of that genetics. Only $14.99! :-D

    • beanfeast
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Ben,

      Congratulations on your self restraint.

      You start your post talking about prohibition. However, the issue in New York had nothing to do with prohibiting sugary drinks, it was merely restricting the size of beverages that could be sold.

      I am in favour of the sale of cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol.

      I also have no problems with restricting the amount of these substances that can be sold.

      I think these will serve as examples showing that it is already the case, and people don’t complain about it.

      Here in the UK the vast majority of corner shops only sell Drum in 12.5g packs. In a supermarket you might find 25g packs. I am not aware of anywhere that sells it in the 50g packs you can buy on the continent.

      I might be mistaken, but in the U.S. don’t bar staff have a duty of care for their patrons. Isn’t it a crime for them to continue selling alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated?

      In The Netherlands, the only place where I have legally bought cannabis products, there is a maximum value the shop is allowed to sell you. I’m sure it used to be 25 guilders, but for the life of me I can’t remember the Euro amount.

      So if we can do it for all of the above (the tobacco example is by far the weakest example) why not for sugar drinks?

      • Rory
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        The limit on cannabis purchases in the Netherlands is by weight rather than price. You can buy a max of 5 grams per person at any one time, although you are allowed to have somewhat more than that (30g, I think) on your person before you are considered being “with intent to sell”. It’s all fairly arbitrary, as far as I can tell.
        The price per gram can vary widely from shop to shop. Or so I am told, your honour. Ahem.

        • beanfeast
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          Thank you for correcting me. My memory of a Guilder price, rather than a Euro price, probably gives you a clue as to how long ago it was that I spent a significant period of time in The Netherlands. And perhaps my consumption whilst over there dulled my memory.

          Whether it be a cash limit or a weight limit, it still serves as a reasonable example for Ben.

  24. Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Part of Bloomberg’s reasoning when he proposed the 16 oz limit was that it’s “harder to carry 2 bottles than 1.” I suppose this could be true, but not to such a degree that it seems that it would matter. Unless, he planned on prohibiting lids and caps and plastic bags along with it.

    I’m all for preventing people from downing 64 oz sodas every day as well as preventing other unhealthy habits like sedentary lifestyles and all kinds of bad dietary habits, among which drinking large volumes of soda is but one. But, the controls should be done via educating people to make smart choices about their health. What’s next? Mandating that everyone must exercise 60 minutes daily, 30 of which keeps their heart rates at 80% of the max? Surely a mandate like this would result in better overall health than restricting the size of soda cups, but I highly doubt there’s many people who would agree to that sort of law.

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Mandating that everyone mustexercise 60 minutes daily, 30 of which keeps their heart rates at 80% of the max?

      That would be very bad for your health. Very, very bad.

      Ideal is a few times a week of intense effort lasting no more than half an hour or so, and with at least half of the session spent resting and variety both within the workout and between sessions. Recovery is essential; recovery is when your body builds new lean body mass. Without recovery, you’re just breaking down muscle and never building it back up again — a recipe for disaster.

      For example, you might have a three-minute interval which you start by attempting to do twelve pushups; when you reach twelve or you can’t do any more, you stop and rest until the three minutes are up. Do that for three sets of twelve, 36 pushups total, and then move on to, say, a pull-up variation and repeat the same pattern. And again, three sets of twelve for two other upper-body exercises, for a workout that lasts all of half an hour but in which you probably were only doing anything for twelve minutes total. Take the next day off, and the day after do the same thing but with lower-body exercises…your arms will still be sore, but not enough to hinder your performance squatting, jumping, lunging, and the like. Another day or two later your arms will have recovered enough to work them again — maybe this time with in-line pushing instead of perpendicular pushing.

      For details and exercise plans laid out such that you don’t have to think, see the books by Mark Lauren, or any of a number of other people. But Mark’s focus is on bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere any time without any equipment more sophisticated than a chair or a door. And the exercises are far more effective than what you can do on any machine in any gym….

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        I think saying that is “very very bad” might be overdoing it. There is much evidence that people who do 60 minutes or more per day of low intensity exercise (such as walking) are much healthier than sedentary individuals.

        Anyhow, I did just throw those numbers out there as an example. 30 minutes of vigorous exercise every day on the same muscles will certainly tear you down over time, so I’ll concede that could end up being very very bad. My point was that forcibly mandating any type of exercise wouldn’t work, even if it were the plan you outlined or any other plan statistically shown to optimize health.

        I average at least an hour a day walking (partially because my commute includes 2 miles of walking). This alone isn’t as good as a plan like the one you outlined but it’s better compared to the baseline of sitting on my ass all day. In any case, mandating any of this isn’t the answer. Providing incentives so as to make it easier to live healthier lives will drive it. When it’s easier to get in our cars, go sit in our cubicles, grab fast food on the way home and then fall asleep in front of the TV than it is to not do any of these things, it’s no surprise that a large portion of the population does exactly those things. Restricting soda sizes, especially with such obvious ways to circumvent the restriction will simply accomplish nothing other than incorporating one small piece of totalitarianism.

        • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          Your example was a wee bit more extreme than just an hour a day of walking, which is why I called you out on it. An hour a day of walking is just fine for anybody and everybody so long as you’re not injured in a way that walking would exacerbate the injury. It was the 30 minutes daily of keeping your heart at 80% – 90% of maximum…no joke, but that would be fatal sooner rather than later to many people, and a really bad idea for anybody.

          My point was that forcibly mandating any type of exercise wouldn’t work, even if it were the plan you outlined or any other plan statistically shown to optimize health.

          Absolutely agreed. There will be those who will always make the conscious decision that they would rather be a gluttonous couch potato, even if it means a shorter life with more illness, than to live up to their full physical potential. It’s not a choice I can at all agree with, and perhaps not even respect…but it’s their choice and taking it away from them is purest evil.

          b&

  25. Kevin
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Want to lose weight: exercise. If you hate exercise, then stop eating too much.

    People should be able to eat whatever they want whenever they want, FDA approved or not. Regulations are for people who are too lazy to regulate their own diet, educate themselves about their body, and motivate themselves to exercise.

    • Jefscott
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      It is common for people to claim obesity a result of laziness or lack of motivation.

      It’s not that this framework is true or false – but it’s an imprecise model for why obesity persists, and it’s probably the least useful model as well.

      It is more precise and useful to say that obesity plagues us because our brains were wired via evolution in a way that is vastly different from today. We evolved during a state in which calories were the eminent focus of our every day and chronic hunger/starvation were daily killers. And so reward systems came about that made our brains enjoy foods associated with high calorie density.

      So to say that obesity persists because of laziness…is itself a form of intellectual laziness. And to claim that institutions can’t be a part of the system that helps protect us from ourselves is similarly lazy.

      Even if we wrote obese people off and agreed that “regulations are for people who are too lazy” this doesn’t change the fact that their health outcomes affect you, because when they get medical treatment (in the ER or otherwise) you’re affected in one way or another. It is hard not to notice the irony when people argue against government institutions in applying regulation because of the belief that everyone has their own “personal responsibility”. Because in a way, that is the purpose of regulations – they try to recognize that someone’s decisions, stupid or otherwise, affect other people, and so it’s necessary to mitigate the bystander harm. In economics they call this “externalities.” We heavily tax cigarettes to try and curb consumption, but also in recognition that smokers induce a heavy cost on the health system. And that does affect you.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        I am in favor of taxing sodas. 50% if you want. But restrictions make no sense.

        Also, it is a fact that being overweight, particularly after age 60 – 75 is being very longevity. Also many people I know who are overweight can be happier than if they were regular BMI. So that is a good thing for society in general.

        • Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          The Body Mass Index is a terrible measure of health.

          My weight, and therefore my BMI, is significantly above where it was a couple years ago. But, back then, I was a pencil-necked geek with a growing belly and rounding face. According to the BMI, I was hovering between “normal” and “overweight,” but I now know that I was definitely too fat. Today, the BMI says I’m hovering between “overweight” and “obese,” yet all I’ve got left of my belly is about the total volume of one hand. If I stay on the trajectory I’m on, by this time next year I’ll definitely be in the “obese” category by BMI, but I’ll have a lower body fat percentage than I’ve had since I was a skinny kid in school.

          And — here’s the kicker — that’s actually where at least the adult male’s ideal body weight lies: solidly in the “obese” BMI category. All those movie stars with bulging muscles? All those elite soldiers in the field? All those top pro athletes? All the models for the Classical Greek statuary that still defines our idea of the perfect human physique? According to the BMI, they’re all at least significantly overweight, and most of them are solidly obese.

          Weight isn’t the problem. Excess body fat is the problem. And, since muscle is so much more dense than fat, it’s very easy — indeed, very common — for somebody to simultaneously be underweight and obese — as I myself was a couple years ago.

          It’s all about body composition, not the numbers your scale.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

            BFI (body fat percentage) is a better measure than BMI.

            • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

              The two in combination would probably be sufficient. There’s an huge difference between, say, two men, each 5’8″, one of whom weighs 115 pounds with 5% body fat and another who weighs 190 pounds with 5% body fat.

              I’m sure some sort of metric accounting for both already exists….

              (Hip / waist ratio might be a not-bad proxy, but even that can’t account for the difference between an incipient gut and six-pack abs.)

              b&

          • Jefscott
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

            Ben I promise I’m not trolling you!

            One thing to keep in mind – we know BMI is an imperfect and imprecise measure. We also know calculations that define the number of overweight or obese people in the US might have significant error based on the imprecision of the BMI scale. And more generally that BMI doesn’t always correlate to poor health outcomes within a single individual. But we know the correlation between BMI and health outcomes is true over a decently large sample size…which given the population of the US, we do have.

            One thing people rightly say is that because the BMI scale is not that great, we might be overestimating the number of obese/overweight people in the country. But even if we removed a huge group of people towards one end of this scale, we’re still probably talking about 100+ million people with a health status we know is bad.

            Now I know you were not saying this…but I bring it up because there are many of people who falsely translate imprecisions in the BMI scale with a lack of recognition in the scale and harm done by obesity.

            • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

              But you’re overlooking the other problem with BMI: that it incorrectly labels many people as “normal” despite them having excess fat and insufficient muscle.

              That is, it’s not just a problem of over-reporting obesity because of fit people improperly classified as fat; it’s also a problem of under-reporting obesity because of flabby people improperly classified as fit.

              And, as much as it does a disservice to the fit people of the world, it does a far greater disservice to the unfit people of the world, for it sends the worng message: that all they need to do is lose weight and all will be well.

              Bullshit!

              Weight isn’t the problem. Excess body fat is the problem.

              And as long as people think that they need to “lose weight” to get healthy, we’re going to see people try to starve themselves to health. What insanity!

              Those hundred million people you mention? Many, even most of them, have numbers on the bathroom scale that are perfectly fine, if not even exemplary. What they need to do is not lose weight, but build muscle and burn fat — and to hell with what the numbers on the scale say, numbers that may well need to go up rather than down in many cases.

              But they’re never going to happen on a societal scale so long as the focus is on weight and BMI.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                It goes even deeper than body fat percentage too. There’s a whole body of evidence that visceral fat is very detrimental to health. You may have a decent overall fat percentage, but if the majority of it is wrapped around your organs and upping your diabetes and heart disease risk, that’s a big problem.

              • Jefscott
                Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                Yeah I don’t really think we disagree on too much here. BMI is a pretty good indicator of TRENDS applied to large-numbered groups (like the entire country), but it’s not great as a lone variable for an individual

                Probably half a million people dye from obesity-related problems, and many millions with suffer low quality of life. However one modifies the national numbers based on BMI (or any other scale) half a million people dying a year is huge. Maybe we change our metrics and quantitatively decide only 250,000 die each year from obesity – which is still fantastically high.

                Many people confuse imprecision with the BMI scale with believing obesity isn’t as devastating (at a national level) as it really is. And more generally many get lost in debates about the precision of the BMI scale and lose site of the real and looming epidemic. Of course the what-metric-do-you-use and what-are-its-benefits debate is important for people who study public policy and nutritional sciences and all that. But I’ve noticed that many people who go down that rabbit hole get distracted from the known and quantified devastation of the disease.

                Your suggestion that trying to lose weight, as a simplified and general message, will lead to an epidemic of people starving themselves probably isn’t supported by evidence. Simply losing weight for many millions of people really will give them longer life and higher quality of life. Clearly, it isn’t the most optimal advice, which would include specific focuses of an individual as well as exercise and diet composition. And it won’t solve the problem for everyone. But one shouldn’t confuse the lack of an all-encompassing solution to mean that singular-focused strategies can’t bring benefits at the population level. At least this appears to be the advice from most nutritional and health policy experts, which, from a national perspective, agree that simply losing weight for many people will pay reasonable dividends.

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                Maybe we change our metrics and quantitatively decide only 250,000 die each year from obesity – which is still fantastically high.

                I don’t think the total numbers would shift much — and, if they did, I’d bet they’d shift to a larger number.

                But the problem is that the people who fall into those numbers would change, and that’s a real problem. If you have a million people dying of x, but you say that only people with a die of x whereas it’s really people with b who die of x, that’s a problem.

                Your suggestion that trying to lose weight, as a simplified and general message, will lead to an epidemic of people starving themselves probably isn’t supported by evidence.

                I wrote that people try to lose weight by starving themselves, which is exactly what happens. People go on diets which are, by definition, a form of starvation. Worse, they often try to starve themselves at the same time that they stress themselves with the increased caloric demands of strenuous activity — and, irony of ironies, prolonged aerobic exercise to boot. That’s what kills people in large-scale human-made disasters like the Long March and the Trail of Tears. Even the survivors aren’t what you’d call fit ‘n’ trim. Most people have the good sense to not stick to that sort of insanity for very long and revert back to their more slowly destructive habits.

                Simply losing weight for many millions of people really will give them longer life and higher quality of life.

                That’s exactly the kind of bad reasoning that the over-reliance on BMI leads to.

                You can’t get healthy by losing weight. Period, full stop, end of story.

                If you get healthy, one of the many beneficial results from your good health will be shedding of excess fat.

                How do you get healthy? Eat well, including lots of fresh veggies (all you can eat) plus protein matched to your body weight plus complex carbohydrates matched to your activity level plus modest amounts of minimally-processed fats. And no more than a tablespoon a day of sugar in whatever form; eat whole fresh fruit and berries (whole, not juiced, not canned, not cooked) to satisfy your sweet tooth if you have one. Drink lots of water. Do about half an hour of intense muscle-building exercise a few times a week, such as the bodyweight exercises I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this thread. Get a minimum of eight hours of solid sleep each night, preferably nine hours, even if you don’t think you need it. Wean yourself off other mind-altering substances such as caffeine and alcohol and nicotine, to the point that they’re no more than occasional indulgences (on the order of once a week or preferably less). As much as possible, reduce stress such as obnoxious bosses.

                Do that, and the fat will take care of itself.

                But if you just try to “lose weight,” you’re most likely going to wind up losing as much lean body mass as fat, and you’ll be adding to your stress as you panic over how miserable a person you are that you can’t control your diet, and then rebounding to a higher weight with even more fat and less lean body mass….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jefscott
                Posted June 27, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                “That’s exactly the kind of bad reasoning that the over-reliance on BMI leads to.”

                “You can’t get healthy by losing weight. Period, full stop, end of story.”

                These are extraordinary claims that don’t contort with reality. It is empirically true that doing nothing else but losing weight will improve health outcomes for millions of people. It does not guarantee, or even suggest, optimal health. It does not guarantee health for everyone. Being thin doesn’t guarantee good health. We know that exercise and good diet will improve the positive health outcomes of obese people who lose weight. There are people considered “overweight” by certain metrics (like BMI) for which weight loss would not improve health outcomes. And yet it is still true that there are tens of millions of people for which losing weight alone will improve their quality of life and lifespan.

                You seem to make a basic confusion here. You assume that because weight loss alone may not be the strategy for optimal health, or because there are individuals that are exceptions, that it won’t improve health outcomes. Statistically identifying weight loss as stand-alone factor doesn’t mean we can’t still about diet and exercise. Some of your confusion stems from using the word “healthy” to represent a discrete category. This is an imprecise and not very useful linguistic model. Health exists along a continuum, and we know with as much certainty as possible in medical science that for millions of people weight loss moves them positively on that continuum. Does that make them “healthy”? I don’t know what the basic unit of “healthy” is, but it does improve their quality of life and lifespan. Are their other more important metrics when talking about health I’m missing?

                You imply that observations about the link between weight loss and improved health outcomes as a “form of reasoning.” More precisely, it’s a statement about statistical and empirical fact.

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

                You’re setting up a comparison between losing weight and adopting an healthy lifestyle that will incidentally lead to an healthy body composition. And the only way to achieve the former without the latter — the dichotomy you’re setting up — is through starvation or disease. Neither will improve a person’s health.

                I think a large part of the disconnect here, once again as a result of the over-emphasis placed on BMI, is that excessive body fat is a symptom, not a disease. The disease is the so-called “metabolic condition,” and is primarily caused by malnutrition and greatly exacerbated by insufficient or inadequate physical activity, with notable shout-outs to sleep deprivation and substance abuse. Fix those causes, and you cure the disease. Cure the disease, and the symptoms — insulin insensitivity, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and, yes, excess body fat — will all improve. Depending on how bad the disease is, a full recovery may or may not be possible, but proper nutrition and exercise will result in improvements, often dramatic improvements, in anybody afflicted.

                Yes, even those who weigh 300 pounds and up — and, here, again, the emphasis on “weight loss” is a great harm to the health and wellbeing of such patients. For somebody that far gone, gain in muscle can very easily mask scale measurements of fat loss, leading the patient to think that there’s no point to the exercise and reversion to malnutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. If, instead, the emphasis is put on health, not the number on the scale, that person will soon notice being stronger and having more endurance, and about that same time see positive changes in body shape even though total weight doesn’t change much. Both those factors are a powerful stimulant to continuing with the new, healthy lifestyle to the point that it becomes an engrained and permanent habit. From there, it’s just matter of time, generally less time than it took to get sick, to become healthy again.

                (And, yes, of course, there are those few with hereditary conditions that are screwed no matter what. But even they’re better off with healthy diet and exercise than simply giving up. Maybe they’ll never be swimsuit models, but that’s no reason they can’t be strong, even if it’s strength underneath a layer of fat. And it’ll be less fat….)

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

              Yup, I see people who are obviously out of shape and either in poor health of at imminent risk of being in poor health trot out the line that BMI isn’t a good measure of an individual’s health. Ben definitely didn’t indicate that it is as he’s correct that people who are muscular and fit often fall into what qualifies as overweight on the BMI scale.

              What these individuals don’t acknowledge is that the average BMI of an American citizen is a good indicator of population health when combined with other indicators such as our decrease in physical activity. If everyone exercised regularly including some form of resistance/strength training, the population BMI may very well not be a good indicator anymore (at least on the scales currently considered to be healthy range). At the individual level, it’s simply not valid to say “I am six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds and so is athlete X, therefore I am not overweight.”

          • darrelle
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            Though it has long been misused by health and fitness professionals, even medical doctors, BMI was never intended to be used, or useful, on an individual basis. As you have pointed out it is quite useless, even harmful, to use it in that way. It was intended for use with statistical analysis of large data sets.

            According to BMI I am directly on the border between overweight and obese. Yet according to typical average strength charts I am “elite” in every lift (even clean & jerk surprisingly) and my mile run time puts me in the top 1% of my age group. That massive disconnect between BMI and actual individual fitness is fairly typical for people who exercise regularly. That is because a large percentile of the population is not fit, i.e. fit people are far from the mean and BMI is derived from means.

          • Kevin
            Posted June 27, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

            I think ‘stress’ and ‘happiness’ are more important that body weight and have a much larger effect on people’s health than anything. BMI is not a great indicator of anything. How happy you are is.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      There is of course some truth to what you wrote here, but it just is not as easy and straightforward as you make it out to be.

      Me personally, I’m lucky. Fit, genetically predisposed to be fit (for the most part, one little issue), was raised with fairly decent eating habits, am not particularly disposed to addictive behaviors and formed a habit of physical activity from an early age. Not everyone has such an advantageous life history. It is not simply a matter of being lazy or not. For various reasons some people need help, and some need more help than others.

      And just to be clear, I am not arguing in support of The Big Soda Ban. I seriously doubt it would have had any significant effects. But I am not against government involvement in dealing with issues like this, in principle.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        I too am not against regulation particularly of sodas. I just do not think it solves any problems. And I am probably fortunate that I hate carbonated drinks. Like Hitchens would say, there are 3/4 things that are seriously over-rated:

        1. Champagne (anything with bubbles is second rate)
        2. Picnics (bugs and ants…I end up squashing the ants, whom I adore…and that’s no fun)
        3. You will have to go online to find out the third it is too lurid for WEIT.
        4. Lobster (but I disagree…lobster rocks)

        • darrelle
          Posted June 27, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          Shoot. Now I’m hungry.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 28, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

          And I’m curious.

  26. Bill Johnson
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Gee! That’s smart. And banning the selling of large packs of cigarettes or large quantities of alcohol is going to be easier now the ban on soft drinks is lifted.

  27. krzysztof1
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I think the cigarette-smoking ban is different, due to the fact that second-hand smoke harms others. A big-gulp diet only hurts the individual.

    However, having said that, there is an indirect bad spinoff with the latter in terms of rising health-care costs to try to help obese people–diabetes, etc.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      There are movements within most organizations to promote healthier attitudes toward diet and exercise. Incentives are becoming monetary, which means the big-gulp diet affects everyone, whether they like it or not.

      I would argue, though, that health insurance is still ridiculously low, despite the fact that obesity arguably makes it more expensive and that I have only seen two doctors in the last thirty years which makes we wonder why I have health insurance (disaster insurance is what it should be called).

      • Bill Johnson
        Posted June 28, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        Which brings us back to education. Why train people to be soliders and die for silly causes when they can be educated about themselves? I don’t care about the Xth president of the US, but I do care about people knowing their bodies: sex is one, metabolism is another one, vaccines, exercise, and so on. The whole History should be replaced by just the Holocaust so people would be aware of what the political right sees as «right».

        I’m not ironic or sarcastic. I really think sex is more important than the 100 year war. People have no idea about their bodies. The other day a Ob-Gyn friend was telling me about a veiled woman who was sure that she wasn’t a virgin because she years ago rubbed against a boy through the clothes — both being dressed. In a way her clitoris is Allah’s worst enemy.

        • Posted June 28, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Is your example of rubbing clothing really a matter of education? This seems more like an example of religious indoctrination equating that action with actual sexual intercourse. In conservative Christian circles as well as Islam, there’s much obsession about what is “too far to go” outside of marriage. I had people tell me as a teenager that a french kiss or masturbation are both as intrinsically evil as premarital sex, but I wasn’t confused on the actual differences between the 3 different acts.

          None of this is to say that this girl also may have been uneducated as well as indoctrinated, but education on sex won’t necessarily clear up her guilt complex.

  28. Hempenstein
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I have a good friend who runs a little market in a rustbelt town neat Pittsburgh. He’s diabetic himself, and tries to encourage his customers to eat better things than they do. More than a few times he’s gotten the reply, “It’s OK, I’m blessed.”

    So once again, religion enters the picture. Denial is one thing, but when Jebus sanctions it, the ability to penetrate declines exponentially.

    • Posted June 27, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      One if the many lines I heard as a kid was that Christians know that their bodies are temples for the soul and will thus be motivated to eat healthy in exercise. On the other hand, heathens don’t care about their bodies and will destroy them through drug abuse and bad eating habits because there’s no reason to take care of yourself if we are all “just going to die.”

      Just another item in the long list of illogical assertions not backed by real world evidence…

      • Hempenstein
        Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        Yep, what better population to sell the afterlife to than the broken-down. Even if they don’t remember you in their will, why postpone the funeral – just another opportunity to pass the collection plate.

  29. nicky
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    The problem is how much should a government be allowed to regulate? Be it drugs and alcohol, guns, or unhealthy food. As Ben pointed out, bans generally are a bad way to regulate (although I tend to think a case could be made for guns).
    However, I very much like his suggestion that sodas (here in SA they are called ‘cool drinks’ or ‘gaskoeldrank’, soda is either cream-soda or just fizzy water without any sweeteners here, like in whisky-soda) should be priced on volume, i.e. the bigger portion should not be cheaper per volume unit. Admittedly a regulation, but not really a ban on the big bucket. Rather a sort of ban on psychologically manipulating your customer.
    When I still drank the stuff I always bought the biggest bucket, because I felt ripped off buying the relatively much more expensive smaller container. Such is human nature, it seems.
    Note, I think it is not only refined sugar that is unhealthy, but energy dense starches too. Apparently they stimulate the growth of gut bacteria that produce products (such as certain bacterial LPS’s) that stimulate our cannabinoid receptors and inhibit our amphetamine receptors: makes you hungry and lazy. Of course this is not (yet?) well established fact, just indications.
    Nearly all patients I advised to cut the sugars & dense starches (and hence all processed foods) lost weight and waist circumference, reduced their triglicerides and improved their glycaemia. Again anecdotal, hence not evidence, but still.
    The most important result of the now lifted ban might have been to draw attention to the unhealthy nature of great amounts of soft drinks and other ‘hidden’ sugars, after all, we do have a real problem. One could just as well commend Bloomberg for that, rather than calling him a fascist, which appears (to me at least) to be a somewhat disproportionally strong term to use in this context.

  30. Posted June 28, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    The fact that you can buy Coke in 2-litre bottles anywhere kind of makes it pointless to restrict how big a cup of it you can offer – as does the fact that you can just go and buy another X-Large if you aren’t properly quenched.

    For my tuppence, official efforts to combat such things as rising obesity would be better focused on educating kids (and parents!) properly about food (including basic cooking lessons) and restricting the advertising of junk food during kids’ prime time TV. Telling restaurants “No soft drinks bigger than a pint” is attacking the wrong end of the problem.

  31. Tumara Baap
    Posted June 28, 2014 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Food products harmful to one’s health should be taxed. Those that pose a scourge at a national level even more so. And those that provide little other nutritional value even more so…

    But the bar should be set high for banning something. In that vein, the bar can be set low if it involves neither banning nor taxing.

    Bloomberg’s “ban” is in fact no ban at all. You are free to buy as many 16oz drinks as you like. The mechanism behind it, albeit contested hotly, is through sheer psychology. James Surowiecki does a splendid job of explaining the “default bias.”

    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2012/08/13/120813ta_talk_surowiecki

  32. Posted June 28, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    “My daughter who’s grown up with the corn syrup sodas doesn’t like the ones made with cane sugar. She thinks they have a funny aftertaste. I suppose taste is an awful lot of what you’re used to.” (Jeff L)

    Why not demand soda manufacturers to use less sugar and/or maybe xylitol which doesn’t have the same notoriously bad effects of sugar? People will get used to the new taste. I used to think health foods tasted funny – now I find regular sodas, cookies, ice-cream, etc. repulsively sweet! This measure is practical because (1) this is already what organic food manufacturers do (for profit), and (2) it could be done on a “phase-out” basis (i.e. using less and less sugar while not eliminating it entirely).

    Also, why should McCaskill not take soda & breakfast cereal manufacturers to the woodshed, as she did with Dr Oz? They owe America an explanation for their irresponsible practices. Oz’s overrated loose-weight products are totally ineffective, but the former’s are positively harmful. This would be consistent with her position on Oz.

    • Posted June 28, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I can relate, many artificially sweets are also overwhelming to me. On the other hand, I’ve also acquired a taste for straight liquor and find many mixed drinks repulsive. Makes it rather easy to overdo it. But, it certainly seems safe to say an individual can change hi tastes over time.

  33. Posted June 28, 2014 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Jerry, Drink only water. Diet sodas are poison too!

  34. Posted June 28, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    JAC actually had an asterix footnote saying he no longer drank sodas…


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