NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Proposed Soda Ban Is a Bitter Pill

October 19, 2010

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to bar New York City food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy soda or other sugared drinks is unlikely to reduce waistlines or improve health, say Michael L. Marlow and Alden F. Shiers, professors of economics at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Here's why:

  • Roughly one-third of U.S. adults are obese and another quarter are overweight, according to the latest federal data.
  • Obviously, consuming additional calories, such as those found in sugared beverages, contributes to weight gain, but nutritional research suggests that soda consumption alone contributes little to American waistlines.
  • In fact, researchers have found that, given current evidence, little can be said with confidence about the weight effects of soda consumption.

Moreover, Americans' consumption of sodas has been declining for more than a decade.  According to the industry journal Beverage Today, consumption is down 15 percent since 1998, say Marlow and Shiers.

The ban could have some worrisome unintended consequences:

  • Food stamp recipients might choose to buy high-fat foods, sweets and foods with many artificial ingredients to satisfy their sweet tooth and desire for tasty items.
  • They might also simply add more sugar to home-brewed iced tea, substituting one high-calorie drink for another.
  • The ban may also distract people from a simple but effective strategy of weight loss: Eat less, exercise more.

More importantly, a soda ban sends the message that individual responsibility and motivation are being replaced by government responsibility over people's health, say Marlow and Shiers.

Source: Michael L. Marlow and Alden F. Shiers, "Proposed Soda Ban Is a Bitter Pill," AOL News, October 18, 2010.

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