Recently, NYC’s Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, announced a plan to enact a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters, and street cars. This is great news because of the obesity epidemic, which is incurring a huge toll on society, especially children. The Mayor made the case by showing how much sugar a regular bottle of soda contains, and arguing that this ban would go a long way in helping reduce obesity in NYC.
Now, while this is a great step forward, I think it’s fair to ask a question: is a ban the best way to reduce obesity? I would argue that it is not. First of all, preventing people from getting sugary drinks will look like certain freedoms are being taken away, and in addition we will be losing economic activity created by the sales of sugary drinks from this ban. In addition, we’ll be denying sugary drinks to people who lead very healthy lifestyles and actually drink these occasionally.
I think a better way to do this, as discussed in the comments to a post of the original NYTimes article on Google+, is to tax these drinks. If NYC were to instead tax sugary drinks heavily, to the point where it’s cheaper to, say, purchase instead healthier options, then we would be doing two things at once: reducing obesity rates while increasing tax revenues. We could use the tax revenues to do another thing that would help reduce obesity: give people greater access to exercise opportunities. The government could provide incentives to build more gyms, give people with low-income credit to access gyms, build more public courts, create more bike paths, and even subsidize healthier drinks. This approach would go farther in reducing obesity without keeping sugary drinks away from people who may occasionally drink them.
Whether NYC would do this or not is another question. I think the idea of a tax would immediately make the politicians promoting the ban scared of the politics of the matter, even though it can be framed in a way that actually gains political points as well. Maybe some other city will follow up with a better approach that taxes instead of bans.