New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempted ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces is a symbolic gesture based on incorrect paternalistic assumptions, writes
economics professor Michael Marlow of California Polytechnic State
University, in the spring issue of the Journal of American Physicians
People already understand that sugary beverages contribute to weight
gain, and they can figure out how to get around the ban. Or they might,
for example, substitute beer or milkshakes, Marlow suggests.
Soda taxes are also being used, ostensibly to fight obesity. An
attention-grabbing study recently made the claim that a
one-penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages could avoid 26,000
premature deaths over 10 years, raise $13 billion in tax revenue, and
avoid $17 billion in medical costs. But rigorous economic research,
according to Marlow, shows that raising the tax to the equivalent of
tobacco taxes would only decrease average body mass index by 0.16. (A
BMI of 30 is defined as obese.) Some officials admit that the real
purpose is simply to bring in tax revenue.
Marlow states that the usual procedure is to identify a public health
problem; fund only those studies that show a proposed intervention to
be effective; ignore studies showing that it isn’t; and attribute
program ineffectiveness to “underfunding.”
If a measure fails to achieve its stated goal, Marlow writes that the
likely response is to seek ever more aggressive laws to correct
citizens’ mistakes in eating and drinking.
Attempts to replace individual motivation and responsibility with
government intervention will, in Marlow’s view, cause public health to
suffer as funds are wasted on programs that offer no real solution.
The Journal is an official publication of the Association of American
Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing
physicians in all specialties, which was founded in 1943.