The Government Keeps Our Toes Intact
If you happen to own a TV, you may have noticed the city’s latest attempt to control consumer spending by connecting soda with mutilated diabetic toes. In the television ad, we see a kid buying a soda, then a sweetened tea drink, then an iced coffee sugar fest, then another couple of sodas. Then cut to a shot of a pair of black and blue deformed, wilted, moldy toes. Excessive soda equals moldy toes? Well, maybe if combined with no exercise and a diet solely composed of highly processed foods and trans fats. But as nauseating as the ads are, they’re a walk in the park compared to Bloomberg’s other attempt to get the city off sugar — his October proposal to ban people with food stamps from being able to buy soda. The ads are fiercely visceral, puke-worthy, and an overly simplified way of explaining the trouble with sugary drinks. But they’re also an attempt to educate, and that’s precisely why they are a far superior way of improving health than banning soda from one particular economic group.
On January 31, the USDA released its 2010 dietary guidelines, which are revised every five years. The guidelines have raised many questions, such as how the USDA expects people with low incomes to afford filling their plates with vegetables and fruit instead of starch.
Even as a college student, it’s easy to recognize that when the budget’s tight it is far cheaper to buy spaghetti and tomato sauce than fresh vegetables and organic grilled chicken. But the strength of the guidelines is that they educate people. Judging by the Center for Disease Control’s numbers that say 34 percent of American adults and 17 percent of children are obese it’s pretty obvious that the country is in dire need of a proper food education.
Some big players in the Republican party have lashed against the government’s attempt to educate the nation about obesity and health. In response to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to promote healthy foods and exercise, Sarah Palin made s’mores on her reality TV show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” She said the s’mores were “in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.” Then, in response to a proposal to serve healthier food and limit the sweets in school lunches in Pennsylvania, Sarah Palin showed up at an elementary school with a load of cookies. She said that big government shouldn’t tell her what to eat.
Indeed, Palin would be correct in expressing a disdain for an actual law prohibiting her bad eating habits. But the USDA guidelines, “Let’s Move,” and the improvement in school lunches don’t force anyone to do anything. They’re all simply stating and acting on the obvious need for kids and adults to eat healthier.
It’s unfortunate that Palin was unable to realize that critical difference before starting her campaign.The person she should criticize is Bloomberg and his proposal to ban soda from people with food stamps. It puts legal restrictions on a single group of people who are already economically limited.
With the exception of the soda ban, New York has done good work to better the public’s health. The city’s “School Food” program has worked to increase whole grains and vegetables in public schools. The “Wellness in Schools” program, started by a group of public school parents, works with public schools to improve food and increase exercise for students. But TV can also be used as a powerful tool for spreading the message. That 30-second time slot when the city has the attention of the masses can be used for good. The soda ads might be educating through shock value, but at least they’re educating.
Maybe the diabetic toe ads are dramatic, but they don’t create hazardous divisions between economic groups. The people in lower income communities who rely on food stamps shouldn’t be the only ones unable to buy soda. Everyone has to share the same rights to food if the city wants to battle obesity in a unified way.
Having a law prohibiting the consumption of something won’t decrease diabetes or obesity; it’ll make the item more sought after than ever before while only prohibiting it from one group will create a greater division among communities. What people need is an education, not another strict enforcement.