New York should ban junk food and sodas in hospitals instead

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the selling of sugar-containing drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces in all types of eating establishments including street vendors, movie theaters, delicatessens and even stadiums. The purpose is to limit sugar intake and theoretically help people lose weight by saving them from themselves.

The plan has received mixed reviews with some calling it a “nanny state” action. Also since a consumer can buy more than one 16 ounce bottle at a time, detractors point out that the truly motivated sugar addict will not be deterred. Supporters say that anything that limits sugar consumption is good. A recent poll shows that slightly more than half of New Yorkers think the idea is bad.

I don’t think it will have any impact on the general public at all. There is no proof that obesity is related to the size of a drink container. One wonders if the mayor is simply grandstanding.

But more importantly, the mayor could have far more influence if he addressed something he can control. That is the selling of sweetened sodas and junk food at the 11 acute care hospitals owned and run by the city serving mostly indigent New Yorkers.

On nearly every floor of the city owned hospitals, vending machines are stocked with mostly non-nutritious snacks and sodas containing sugar. Cafeterias and coffee shops feature similar fare.

If the mayor wants to do something constructive about obesity, he should mandate that his hospitals lead the way and stop giving obese patients and those with diabetes access to products that are not good for them. It makes no sense to counsel a hospital patient about a diabetic or weight-loss diet and then provide that same patient a vending machine full of junk 100 feet from his hospital room.

While he’s at it, the mayor should ban the sale of junk food and sodas in the more than 40 other private and not-for-profit hospitals in the city’s five boroughs.

That would be a real obesity prevention program, not a publicity stunt.

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.

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