A Healthy Body Can Lead to a Healthy Mind
Following the lead of New York City, Cambridge, Massachusetts is considering limiting the size of sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages in city restaurants.
Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis proposed the idea at the City Council’s meeting on June 18, saying she brought the idea forward because of the health risks posed by consuming too much soda.
“In addition to being an obesity threat, soda is one of the contributing factors to an increasing rate of diabetes and heart disease amongst younger people,” Davis said.
Davis said the change she had in mind is similar to that recently proposed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which would impose a 16-ounce limit on any sugary bottled or fountain drink that contains more than 25 calories per 8 ounces that is served at restaurants, delis, and movie theaters.
The New York City proposal would not affect diet soda or any drink that is at least 70 percent juice, or half milk or milk substitute.
In this blog I raise the question whether the government has the right to prevent its citizens from consuming soda of any kind in any quantity they want including taking advantage of free refills. On the one hand there is no doubt that obesity is a problem in society and scary with respect to obese youngsters. Research has increasingly pointed to sugary beverages as a prime culprit in the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Public health is being threatened by rising diabetes and heart disease rates among younger people and that’s why New York and Cambridge is looking at taking extreme measures such as limiting choices of those who can’t or won’t moderate their own behavior for their own good and that of society.
Beverage and restaurant industry leaders say restrictions on the size of sugary drinks are misguided. They believe other outlets exist and there is no effective way to limit the intake of potentially health-threatening-surgery drinks.
To me a person has a right to put whatever they want into their bodies. If we start to limit the ability of youngsters to drink Coca-Cola or other sugary drinks, where does it stop? What about fast food intake? A new study in the Journal of Health Economics found that the U.S. spends more than $190 billion a year on medical costs associated with obesity.
Corporate Accountability International and Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg of The City University of New York have released a report that addresses the rising epidemic of diet-related disease. The report, Slowing Down Fast Food: A policy guide for healthier kids and families, documents ways in which city and county policymakers can address the toll that diet-related disease is taking on their municipalities and on their communities’ health. It offers specific solutions to curb a primary contributor to the problem – the overconsumption of fast food and the ubiquitous marketing of fast food to children.
It seems to me the health hazards of consuming fast food are much greater than a “Big Gulp” at Seven Eleven. For children, over-consumption of fast food can lead to type-two diabetes, asthma, and liver disease. Adult-onset problems include stroke, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Why don't we limit the size of a "Big Mac" or "Whopper"?
The bottom line is parental involvement and education in our schools through health and nutritional programs are the best ways to address the problem of obesity in our youngsters. If parents don’t care, or are obese themselves, then they might buy the 40-ounce soda for their kids.
The sad reality is schools have had to cut nutritional and sports programs that can make a difference because of budget constraints and other priorities. Just as ethics education is important to create a generation of responsible adults, so is health and sports programming (not to mention the arts). Education should address the whole of the individual. A healthy body can lead to a healthy mind.
Can it be done? Yes and the Texas “fitnessgram" program is proof that health and fitness education can work. The Texas program mandates daily physical education and annual fitness tests for the state's 2.4 million kids ages 8 to 18.
The idea was proposed in part to help combat the state's troubling childhood obesity rates, but this first-of its-kind study also set out to prove physically fit kids make for better students - and the results are in. After the first year officials say Texas school kids are performing better on standardized tests. And as fitness rates rose, absentee rates dropped, and so did reports of discipline problems.
And there is a direct correlation between more cardiovascular activity and better grades. At the top performing schools - where at least 90 percent of the kids pass the state assessments tests - 80 percent of the students are fit. And at the poorest performing schools? Only 40 percent make the fitness grade. Texas officials believe the harder they can push the kids to become more physically fit, the harder the kids will push themselves in the classroom.
Sometimes it’s the kids leading the parents to become more fit. In the embedded video link, you can watch (after the obligatory advertisement that precedes it) the inspiring story of twelve-year-old Mason Harvey who was teased in school for being overweight until he turned his life around, losing 85 pounds in one year. CBS reporter Byron Pitts interviews Harvey about his own success story and how it motivated him to promote awareness for childhood obesity.
Perhaps not surprisingly programs like Texas’ fitnessgram and Mason’s story gets little news coverage. I suppose media outlets don’t think the public is interested in what might work to curb childhood obesity and focus instead on the problems – not possible solutions.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 30, 2012