Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Excellent step: Banning large sizes of junk/snack foods

with 27 comments

It was Pepsi that first discovered the Law of Snack Foods. They ran an experiment in which consumers could have as much free Pepsi as they wanted. What they discovered was that the consumer would consume as much as they took home, regardless of the amount.

Thus Pepsi wanted to make it easy to take home more of their products: thus the 2-liter soda pop bottles, the enormous bags of potato chips, the case and half-case packages of canned soda: get it into the house, and they’ll consume.

Looks like New York is going to cut back on that. Michael Grynbaum reports in the NY Times:

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in the Governor’s Room at City Hall.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

A spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association, an arm of the soda industry’s national trade group, criticized the city’s proposal on Wednesday. The industry has clashed repeatedly with the city’s health department, saying it has unfairly singled out soda; industry groups have bought subway advertisements promoting their cause. . .

Continue reading. It’s probably redundant to point it out, by the Beverage Association here has a rather obvious conflict of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2012 at 11:02 am

27 Responses

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  1. We had a friend who delivered Pepsi products in a truck for a while. Pepsi provided him with a home fountain drink dispenser (rather like you see in fast food places) and his FIVE children, pre-teens and teens, and all their friends (perhaps more friends now with the free Pepsi machine) were able to imbibe any time they wanted. Plus the adults, of course. I saw this when we went to their house a couple of times for parties.

    We didn’t keep in touch over the years so I don’t know if the children grew up to become obese or have lots of cavities or diabetes. But it certainly wasn’t a healthy advantage to have that free-flowing Pepsi.


    31 May 2012 at 12:46 pm

  2. Interesting: I wonder whether that was one of the families in the test.


    31 May 2012 at 1:05 pm

  3. I can’t get a big gulp, but I can get a pitcher of beer, right?
    Oh, OK.
    Can I buy 3 sodas?
    Oh, OK.


    31 May 2012 at 5:38 pm

  4. I’m not sure what your point is. Are you predicting that with this step consumption will be unaffected? That’s certainly not Pepsi’s research (and experience). But maybe I’m not understanding.


    31 May 2012 at 5:45 pm

  5. I’m not happy with the government in this role; larger sense. I don’t disagree with the research nor do I drink soda, but I don’t understand how limiting consumption is part of a free society; an obvious violation of civil liberty. People can just buy 2 sodas if they really want, unless the government decides to limit that too.
    And what’s next? Rallying cry: you can have my Twinkies when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers.


    1 June 2012 at 3:50 am

  6. Ah: different philosophies. First, as you yourself point out, it’s difficult to see how our precious liberties have been removed given that you can easily buy multiple smaller bottles. But the overriding concern is this: does the government have a role to play in public health. For example, should the government set and enforce standards for drinking water, or should people be free to drink any water they want? Should the government require seat belts in cars? Should the government require vaccinations for children attending public schools?

    These are questions that pretty quickly sort people according to how they view the government. In my own view, our government does indeed have a role to play in public health, and such questions have to be resolved case by case, looking at the evidence, the effects, the benefits, and the costs. In this case (soda pop), I think it was a good call: the companies selling the soda have experimented to find a way to (in effect) exploit unconscious customer habits and thus are able to gain great profits at the cost of people’s health. Your view is that we should stand back and let that happen: private companies can do whatever they want, but we MUST not let the government protect us. My view is that private companies are more or less a constant threat—the corporation is a person, but a sociopathic person that will do anything to increase profits and cares not a whit for the public welfare—and must be monitored and controlled. Indeed, private companies in many cases are more a threat than the government—and in those cases, standing back is a bad move.

    If you want to worry about government overreach, turn your gaze from soda pop to indefinite imprisonment on suspicion, to the protection of those who torture, to the president’s assumption of the authority to order Americans killed, to police who seize cameras that recorded their actions, and so on.


    1 June 2012 at 6:05 am

  7. I think this is a superficial approach to a deeper problem. A colleague used to say, “The only true discipline is self-discipline.” He was right. Making people aware of what they are really doing to themselves and making better choices available results in self-made decisions, which amounts to self-discipline.

    I was helping at a fundraiser at a large retail location recently, and numerous people arrived barely able to walk. They were struggling to get inside to the electric shopping carts. One even commented that he could not keep walking much longer if he did not lose weight. When a person weighs 300 to 400 pounds, there are certain obvious consequences: low mobility, painful knees, shortness of breath with any exertion, and loss of social involvement among others. Soda size may be a single factor, but it is not the central issue of the problem. Complex problems do not usually have simple solutions.

    bill bush

    1 June 2012 at 6:47 am

  8. The idea that that educating people on the consequences of their choices will eliminate the obesity problem in the US strikes me as an example of a simple “solution” to a complex problem. Banning the sale of giant-size bottles of soda pop (which we need for what?) is one step—and before I condemn the step I would like to see the effects it will have. In other words, It seems a reasonable step, but it’s early to say that it will have no positive effect on public health.

    I’m sure you know that addiction fights against knowledge of consequences. We’ve seen emphysema patients who still smoke, for example.


    1 June 2012 at 7:30 am

  9. The only “need” I see for giant-size bottles of soda pop is people buying them for big parties or picnics, reunions, etc. in order to give another alternative for those who do not drink beer, etc. A sole person at a party may drink a small percentage of a giant-size bottle of soda pop.

    However, I’m following you on wise step of trying out limiting large-size fountain soda drinks.


    1 June 2012 at 9:23 am

  10. If you can go into a grocery or convenience store and get the same large items currently available, I think it may just shift meal purchases into a two-part deal for some people.

    And FWIW, educating is not that simple. Telling someone something is easy. Getting it understood and incorporated into thought processes and actions is a pretty complex task when it comes to basic life activities, like food or sex.

    I think this will merely become fodder for Faux News to bloviate about the “nanny state” and “getting the government off our backs” instead of being a genuine move toward healthy habits. Think about the blowback Mrs. Obama got for trying to get people to eat vegetables! Of course, the outrage was even worse when Mrs. Bush2 tried to get children to read. (Snark)

    The whole industrial food machine supports the sale of cheap, easily distributed, relatively nonperishsable stuff that has a high profit margin. Nobody is going to run a zucchini ad during the Super Bowl. If you get up and denounce junk food purchased with food stamps, you will hear sanctimonious agriculture spokesmen telling us that there are no bad foods, only bad choices, and that almost anything can be part of a healthy diet. Then the poison-pushing resumes in the name of the almighty dollar.

    Sorry for the rant. Just checked in while cooling off from gardening. Must go back out and get done with okra bed. Talk about a veg no one will make an ad for!

    bill bush

    1 June 2012 at 9:37 am

  11. I think it would be quite easy to determine the volume of soft-drink beverages (in dollars or in gallons) sold in the NY metropolitan area. Indeed, a poll of wholesalers would probably get the information. It would be easy to compare a similar month (say, June) from before the legislation and a year after the legislation. Wouldn’t that give evidence whether the program is effective or not? In other words, no need to get down into the weeds of individual motivations, thought processes, or decisions: just look at the sales figures from wholesalers of the stuff who sell into that market. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Okra I liked fried—my grandmother would slice it cross-ways, roll in fine cornmeal, and sauté it, and it was great. And pickled is good too. But I’m wondering: does okra have much food value? I never think of it as nutritional powerhouse along the lines of (say) kale.


    1 June 2012 at 9:43 am

  12. Today Mayor Mike was handing out donuts at an event to celebrate National Donut Day.
    I am not a fan of government, as I have obviously made clear 😉
    Cheers folks!


    1 June 2012 at 11:36 am

  13. Once again, I don’t get the point. Sorry, but I can’t follow your thought processes. Did you think that the idea of restricting sale of giant-sized soda pop was that no one should ever again enjoy a confection? I find that hard to believe, but so far as I can tell that’s your point.

    I myself am not a fan of anarchy, but I’ve never really mentioned that. In my view, without government, we’re in a heap of trouble. Just curious: have you ever lived where there is no effective government? I’m thinking of certain African nations for example: from what I see there, I think that having a government is a very good idea, and I have to admit that I’m astonished that someone would take your position. Without a government, how do you avoid … well, all the things for which government was developed in the first place?


    1 June 2012 at 11:57 am

  14. What benefit is banning super-size sodas supposed to have? It is a band-aid solution at best because it does not address the root causes of overconsumption and unhealthy eating habits. Banning things without tackling the underlying issues is a recipe for failure, as has been seen with the war on drugs. Simplistic solutions might sound good, but are not always effective. Educating people about the various choices available, along with their benefits and consequences, is a start. Offering encouragement to those considering healthy alternatives would also help. If government is to have a role in this, then they should act in an efficient and logical manner. Leisureguy, you lost a lot of weight in an area where large size sodas are sold. Perhaps NYC would do well to adopt your methods instead of taking the draconian approach.


    1 June 2012 at 12:57 pm

  15. Everyone always wants to know the results of an experiment without going to all the bother of conducting the experiment. You see it in shaving a lot: “Will this brush/soap/razor/technique work for me?” Well, you just have to try it and see.

    The benefit it is supposed to have I thought was obvious, but guess not: the benefit is to reduce overall consumption of high-sugar low-nutrition soda pop and possibly nudge the health of citizens in a positive direction. Really, the more I think about it, the more obvious the supposed benefit is.

    Guys, I have to say I feel sometimes like I’m writing in response to statements that have not been thought through even at the most basic level. I’m sorry, but I had to say that. It’s no fun painfully explaining the obvious. I’m not being snotty, I hope, I’m just saying that the supposed benefit is totally clear. Am I missing something?

    As to whether it will have that benefit—well, that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s why the experiment is being run. We will soon know whether it is successful or not, but why don’t we wait and see before deciding already what the outcome will be. And, as I pointed out in an earlier comment, it should be easy to tell: just look at wholesale sales figures in the region before and after the change.

    I do not believe that this is even an effort to address the root cause of the underlying problem. Quite often, that’s not the point. When you’re lying in pain in a wrecked auto, you don’t want someone standing there, ignoring your trauma, and saying things like, “As I see it, the root cause of this accident was that bush, obscuring the stop sign, along with the fact that this vehicle did not have anti-lock brakes… look, you can see from the skid marks where the tires locked, …” etc. No, you would want some damn treatment, and fast.

    This is one easy step to take and in no way precludes other efforts to address root causes, whatever they may be. (BPA in food supply? Ignorance? (Highly unlikely, I would say: most people know exactly how they should eat, though of course I endorse educational efforts on food and applaud Michelle Obama’s initiatives in that direction.) Relative availability of healthful vs. unhealthful food? and so on)

    Effectiveness in this case is still undecided: that’s why they’re doing it, so far as I can tell: to test the effectiveness. I suppose you also oppose taking soda-pop machines out of schools, and yet to me that makes good sense: without the ready of availability of unhealthy options, more healthful choices will be made. And the machines were there because the soda-pop companies were paying to put them there: they were a marketing device, not something even intended to be good for the kids.

    Talking about my individual efforts is heady stuff, but we’re looking at public health policy, and trying to run (at a public-health level) the individual kind of program I had doesn’t look reasonable to me. YMMV.

    This is a highly efficient approach. It will use just about zero public funds, and it may well significantly reduce public consumption of soda-pop (at least, if we trust the results of Pepsi’s research in this area, which seems to be borne out by the facts). What’s inefficient about this initiative?

    Really, I’m totally puzzled. It seems an obvious step to take with zero risk to the public, yet the reactions seem (to me) disproportionate. The worse the public will suffer is minor inconvenience: if they’re having a party, they’ll have to buy more smaller containers instead of fewer big ones. This does not exactly threaten our freedoms, especially compared to other things governments do. (I’m not even thinking of Syria.)


    1 June 2012 at 1:29 pm

  16. OK, you sold me with the bit about people wanting to know the results without doing the experiment. That does give the benefit of using NYC as a lab setting. Of course, the results will have no validity unless the consumption measures include the current and future sales of restricted and nonrestricted venues. And true, there is “zero risk to the public” with this idea. If Mayor Mike can sell the idea for the year and create some buy-in, it could be a start. Here’s hoping! But good luck with the “our freedoms” crowd.

    bill bush

    1 June 2012 at 1:37 pm

  17. Zach, you’re strangely quiet when asked questions. Do you really believe that businesses should be able to do pretty much what they want? (I know that some do indeed believe this, and that the “market” will fix all problems that might arise—for example, companies that mistreat their employees will lose market share and go out of business: that sort thing.)

    I also asked (sincerely) for some clarifications. I look forward to your responses.


    1 June 2012 at 1:51 pm

  18. I am not an anarchist; that label seems like a bit of a leap to me.
    I am not a fan of the power of big business but I don’t think that big government is the answer.
    I am best described as a financially conservative libertarian.
    I am a fan of Mike Bloomberg, however, one day he’s telling me that I won’t be allowed to buy a big sugary soda, for my own good, and the next day he’s handing out donuts.
    You don’t see a problem with that message? For me it’s politics first, and always; good PR perhaps, bad policy. Prohibition was a bad idea, we seem to have forgotten that.


    1 June 2012 at 6:58 pm

  19. This totally goes off the mark and someone may wring my neck, but getting to the basics here of government intervening with the health of our public or rather in the good interest of our public’s health…..and this is a big issue like Pepsi seems to be……Roe vs Wade brought abortion into much safer conditions for our women. Women will always get abortions. There are as many needs and circumstances as there are pregnant women. Before laws allowing it, abortions were very dangerous for women. When I was a kid, my teacher’s husband was a doctor. I did not know him to have an office, but it was known, whispered, that he was the doctor who would do abortions in the southern part of our state and the northern part of the state south of us. What office did he use? What nurse? What were the conditions he had to operate in? I did not know.

    My husband was a kid in a northern city. His family knew of a woman who would give abortions on her kitchen table! I don’t think she had any medical training at all.

    And women have used herbal concoctions and all sorts of things. To be able to have legal abortions is not a privilege; like they say, it is a right. Or should be. For women’s health.


    1 June 2012 at 7:56 pm

  20. My response was based on your statement that you were not a fan of government, which to me sounded like you didn’t like government. I see government as essential to a functioning society, and trying to have a functioning society without a government struck me as… well, “over the top.” I really don’t understand how a society of any size or any complexity could function without a government. How would that work?

    If you do in fact that government is essential, then we’re on the same page. We can discuss what sort and all that, but first it would be good to seek agreement on whether having a government of some kind is good, or whether we should try to forge on with no government.

    I don’t understand the whole “message” thing. He’s proposed a law to end the sale in NYC of large containers of soda. That’s not a message, that’s a law. It will have real-world effects, which I am eager to see: it’s an intriguing experiment. The wholesale figures on soda-pop sales in NYC will doubtless be closely scrutinized by many in the coming months as the experiment works out. “Message” seems completely irrelevant to me. This was not an educational push; this was legislation.

    Prohibition is an odd thing to bring up: you yourself pointed out that people can still buy soda and multiple containers. Soda is not outlawed. Where do you get “prohibition”? If it’s illegal to sell beer in open containers, would you call that “prohibition”? (It seems much the same thing to me: outlawing the sale of certain specific containers, not the contents thereof.)

    In reading the story, it does sound to me like a fairly serious public-health issue. Should the government simply do nothing? I guess that’s your thought.

    Well, with this issue we’ve tried that. Didn’t work. So now perhaps the government should do something. We’ll see how it comes out.

    Without the government, we simply let businesses do what they want. That I don’t like. Governments at least have the mission statement of promoting the public welfare; businesses have a mission statement of doing whatever is necessary to grow profits. I fear the latter more than the former. YMMV.


    1 June 2012 at 8:16 pm

  21. @Zach: I realized that my reason for thinking you favored anarchy may not be clear. Here’s how I reasoned:

    “No fan of government” -> do not like government (simple restatement) -> would rather not have government (since it is disliked), which made me wonder with what would you replace government?

    In my view, the weaker and smaller the government becomes, the more we pass under control and rule of businesses, which then are unrestricted in what they can do. And even with the restrictions we currently place on them, businesses in many cases seem to be able to do what they want (Massey Energy, for example, or the financial “industry”). If you don’t favor government for services it provides for the public welfare, with what would you replace it? I just don’t get it.


    2 June 2012 at 4:52 am

  22. Anarchists are fools; I’d rather live in communism than in a place without government, I think we can agree on that; there has to be government.
    If people need services or public assistance then a civilized society must provide that.
    I think we agree on that as well.
    I just don’t want to live in a country where people are dependent on the government, because that gives the government too much control over our lives. You don’t like all the cameras that have gone up and are spying on us, because it is a violation of our personal freedom, which I can understand (although I don’t have a problem with cameras in Times Square but I understand those who do). This is an example of too much government that I think you appreciate.
    I believe that government is incompetent, as did Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and the less control it has over me and my life, for me, the better.
    That’s not to say that I don’t want my roads paved and my wars fought; it just means that I want to be allowed to ‘govern’ myself. Sometimes, that means a big soda.
    I respect that your feelings differ, and that’s OK with me.


    2 June 2012 at 2:37 pm

  23. Ah, okay. So we both like government (in the sense we see it as a good thing to have, much better than the alternative), and of course we both recognize that governments can go off the rails and become extremely bad, especially when they attack their own citizens, either overtly or through a death of a thousand cuts. And I imagine we both want government to be working for the common welfare (i.e., not favoring some special group over another, but seeking the welfare of all).

    I am not quite sure what you mean by people being dependent on the government—that is, I depend on quite a few government services: roads, highways, schools, laws, police, firefighters (though some places—e.g., Maryland when I lived there—use volunteer fireman), Forestry service, military, Parks & Recreation, and on and on. I don’t see that depending on these things is bad: the entire idea of a community is, I believe, to pitch in together so that the community as a whole is stronger and we all benefit.

    And I agree that one of the rights we’ve had under our government (that some governments do not allow) is the right of privacy—and especially the rights in the Bill of Rights, such as the right against unreasonable (i.e., without cause) search and seizure of of our possessions and property, a right the current US government violates regularly by confiscating the cellphones and laptops of those it doesn’t like and searching and keeping them. I believe our government is headed in a bad direction, and I’ve made no secret of that.

    Competence is not all that common in any field of endeavor, but I’ve know many government workers who are extremely competent at what they do. Of course, Moynihan may well have been criticizing himself, since he was both in government (which he sees as a group of incompetents) as well as a college professor (and—shocking though it is—I have actually witnessed incompetents among college professors—not necessarily in their field (though that is not nearly so rare as you might suppose) as in life skills in general. In particular, they often seem not to understand how to work in a group as a team.).

    I have no doubt that my views differ markedly from those of many good and sensible people: that’s how we got to majority rule as a way of settling differences, since differences of opinion are not so easily resolved otherwise. (Look at how religious groups do it: kill each other, quite often: no other way to decide the issues.)

    In my case, I think the government is right to be concerned about public health and I would not close down that function. Moreover, I think the government has a vital role to play in ensuring the safety and quality of our food—a role the government has fallen down on very badly due to controls and demands from the business sector (“Okay, so a few thousand people got ill, and a couple of dozen died. We’re very sorry, but don’t pass any laws. Instead, we’ll have these voluntary industry guidelines that we promise to follow.”). When the government caves to the business, we’re in for some very bad times, because bad as government is, business is worse: driven totally by the need to grow profits. I don’t know if you observed what has happened in the finance industry over the past decade. Does that strike you as a brilliant example of competence?

    But we both do like having a government and see that as a good thing to have. That’s what I was confused by earlier. We are indeed both fans of government (vs. the alternatives), but we would assign somewhat different responsibilities here and there.

    In any event, the big-bottle ban in NYC will go through, and I for one will be very interested to see the results.


    2 June 2012 at 3:18 pm

  24. First paragraph, 100% agree;
    What I mean about too dependent on government is socialism; look at Greece for example (and recall I was born there)
    Incompetence in all walks of like, 110% agree
    I think that if government has to foot the bill for health care, then of course fat smokers are a problem, but, then again, I don’t want government to be responsible for my health care (and health care decisions). Don’t want to get into a health care debate, though we’d agree that it’s currently impossibly broken and that a civilized country has to offer health care to its people.
    Not sure the big bottle ban will go through, lots of negative local media coverage here; doesn’t affect me in any way of course, other than I feel it encroaches on my freedom, and I personally feel that PR is the big reason for this law. But still, we have more common ground than not, I’m certain.


    2 June 2012 at 4:55 pm

  25. I have to admit that I admire the government/community of (say) Sweden and Norway, and indeed people in those nations seem quite happy—and as Krugman pointed out in Friday’s column, Sweden (with big government) seems to be weathering the financial crisis better than some smaller governments. We’re doing terrible because (so far as I can tell) Krugman is right on target: a large section of the GOP wants to dismantle government and provide big tax breaks for the wealthy while letting businesses do as they please, and to hell with the poor and the middle class. So they perfectly happy to pitch the stupid, nonsensical “austerity” approach to solving the economic woes (thus making the woes worse) because their real goal is to protect the wealth and make the government non-functional (because the government does too much to help the poor and marginalized and also tries to restrict businesses in various areas). Sad to see the country fall so hard.

    Compared to that the big-bottle ban is small potatoes.

    I would add that the GOP is determined to destroy the economy and prevent people from getting back to work because they believe that will defeat Obama, and that in their eyes is much more important than for the US to be strong and prosperous.

    BTW, since we both think having a government is good, we are both fans of government—just slightly different types of government. 🙂


    2 June 2012 at 5:07 pm

  26. It is difficult to believe that there is actually a conversation about the goverment about to try to take controll of what stupid people eat . If resonable people let this happen in a country that is based on the principals of personal freedom, no matter how stupid it is to drink sugared water, it will be the end of what personal freedom is. It is a legal product that no goverment has the right to regulate how much you buy at any one time.


    21 June 2012 at 3:03 am

  27. The impact on personal freedom seems pretty trivial to me, but obviously it’s a bigger issue for you. And it’s a pretty old issue. When I moved to Iowa in 1964, the government there (state, not federal) controlled the amount of alcohol people (stupid or not—no IQ test administered) could buy, if not consume: to buy liquor at the government-run store, one had to present a little booklet in which purchases were recorded so that the government could discontinue sales if too much were purchased—in theory, though it was unclear whether anyone was actually cut off. And in this case (once again, no IQ test administered, so law is not specific to the stupid) the control is not over what people eat: it’s on the size of the container. People are still free to eat (well, actually, to drink) the substance; it’s the size of the container that’s regulated.

    I suspect you also would oppose the mandatory use of seat belts in automobiles (the government in California mandates their use, again to protect the stupid from themselves).


    21 June 2012 at 4:03 am

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