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Banning the Big Gulp: Bold Initiative or Bad Idea?


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent proposal to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces rests on portion size research like Ph.D. Robert Jeffery's. He found that people who were given large box lunches gained more weight after a month than those given smaller versions of the same lunch. Jeffery calls Bloomberg's proposal a drop of water in the sea, since attacking the obesity crisis will take many efforts, including acts like this.

Bloomberg's proposal caused a rush of other responses, both for and against. Kenny Lin, M.D., presents a collection of them on his blog, Common Sense Family Doctor; among the voices is New America Foundation's Acting Director Shannon Brownlee's, who also supports the ban. Featured in TIME Ideas, Brownlee discusses the issue Who Should Be Responsible for the Health of Americans? in this video. Joe Colucci of The New Health Dialog blog presents even more responses here.

Peter Ubel, M.D., disagrees with the ban, saying on, As a physician who has written extensively about the unconscious forces that cause people to overeat, I believe that local and federal governments need to enact bold initiatives to combat our nation's obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, the Big Gulp ban is a bad idea. Ubel sees it as an incoherent policy that will be hard for the public to embrace. He writes:

Coke and Pepsi are artificially manufactured processed foods, too. And they contain an undeniably harmful substance. But herein lies the problem. The harmful substance is sugar, and the sugar in Coca-Cola is no more harmful than the sugar in apple juice or a milkshake. This is understandably confusing to the public, who can't understand why New York City is planning to ban large sodas but not triple-decker chocolate cakes, or why the 280 calories in a 24-ounce Coke are somehow worse for them than the 330 calories in a Starbucks peppermint mocha.

Many more have joined the conversation on The New York Times Opinion Pages to debate, What's the best way to break society's bad habits?

Research suggests that the path to behavior change takes time, as captured in this Prepared Patient feature article. And it remains uncertain whether efforts like Bloomberg's will influence the complex nature of behavior change.

As CFAH President Jessie Gruman said in a past post, 'This health and lifestyle behavior change stuff is really hard for us whether we are individuals or caregivers or clinicians' and it is really important: it's necessary for many of us to act differently if we are going to become or remain active and healthy.


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Inside Health Care posts feature recent news and blog posts from the health care community and are part of the Center for Advancing Health’s portfolio of free, evidence-based coverage of what it takes to find good care and make the most of it.

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Diet and Nutrition   Inside Healthcare   Promote your Health   Lifestyle and Prevention  

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