Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 18, 2012

TIDBITS: You can’t legislate skinny

CROSSVILLE — Can legislators help constituents curb calories, increase activity and trim those waistlines? New York City has proposed banning super-sized soft drinks from restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and delis. Anything larger than a 16 ounce beverage would be banned.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Board of Health say the move is a way to fight obesity, a public health issue on which the city spends billions each year.

I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg and his council ever heard of free refills?

Yes, obesity is at epidemic proportions in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control reports more than one-third of U.S. adults, a whopping 35.7 percent, are obese. And that number is on the rise. In 2000, no state had an obesity prevalence greater than 30 percent. In 2010, 12 states were above that mark.

Yes, obesity is a risk factor in a myriad of health conditions and diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. The CDC estimates the medical costs associated with obesity at $147 billion.

Yes, high-calorie, sugary drinks don't do anything to help those two points. If you drink a 20-ounce sodey pop, not the diet variety, three times a day, that's going to add about 750 calories to your daily total. It wouldn't take long for those extra calories to become extra pounds.

Yes, water is better for you than soda. Of course water is better for you. It hydrates your body. It flushes toxins from your body. It can combat tiredness and headaches and aid in digestion.

But riddle me this — are people just going to stop drinking those soft drinks because the mayor and some folks tell them to? Um, no.

You can't legislate someone slender. It doesn't work that way. You can provide the information, educate them on the risks and even provide help for them to get slender. But you can't pass laws and make people lose weight.

I suppose this is the next bandwagon, now that anti-smoking laws have swept the nation. Once upon a time, individual businesses were allowed to decide if they would be smoking or non-smoking. Then, the state of Tennessee took that decision away from them. Did it curb smoking? As a smoker, I can tell you all it really did was annoy me and make me reconsider where I went to spend my money. Sorry to say, but some of those no smoking establishments lost my business because I wanted to be able to light up.

As a smoker, I can tell you I want to quit. I've quit several times and have recently quit again. But the fact the state was making it more difficult for me wasn't a reason for quitting.

I wanted to quit because I could tell those cancer sticks were affecting my health. I'm a reasonably fit person who was starting to get winded walking my dog down the street. I also added up how much was spent on those cigarettes each month and was none too happy with what that figure was. I got tired of having cigarette burns in my clothes and my car, of my hair smelling bad and of having yellow teeth.

But quitting just to get people to stop nagging me? That usually just ignited my stubborn streak and I'd keep right on puffing away.

Education is the key to turning the tide in the tobacco fight. It's also the key to fighting obesity.

The United States Department of Agriculture is currently rewarding schools that implement higher nutritional standards in their school lunch programs. Cumberland County has two winners in the Healthy U.S. Schools Challenge. These programs not only offer more nutritious foods, but they also work with the schools to provide education on better food choices and on the importance of physical activity. Crab Orchard Elementary was named a Touchdown School this past year for its success implementing the Fuel Up 2 Play 60 program in its school, and earned two visits from professional football players. That program used a combination of nutrition education with planned physical activities to get the kids moving. They took those lessons home, too, and tracked their activity and meals online.

It was done in a fun way, all year long. That's the kind of message that sticks.

Perhaps New York should consider better education initiatives on healthy eating and physical activity before they resort to prohibition.

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