Ban on extra-large sodas not going to help -but they can't stop there

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Today s New York Times has an editorial entitled, The Wrong Rx for XXLs. Piqued by the title's vagueness, curiosity got the better of me, forcing me to actually read it. We were stunned to read that they were warning the City's current mayor, Bill de Blasio, NOT to resurrect from the sleeping dead pile former Mayor Bloomberg's bizarre plan to tax super-sized sugary beverages, quashed by several state courts last year.

Good advice, we sure agreed! But wait! The editorial went on: referring to the beverage industry's announced plan to reduce their customers calorie intake by 20 percent within 10 years, the editors said, ...it s always hard to understate the cynicism and tenacity of the beverage industry. They seem to be attacking, rather than supporting, the plan to reduce calories from sugary beverages. Why? Well, because [T]hese same companies have fought tenaciously [there s that word again!] against higher taxes, warning labels and other reasonable government initiatives to limit the damage their products do.

So these cynically tenacious companies have conspired, it seems, to oppose governmental attempts to make their products don the Scarlet O (for obesity) and accept their clear responsibility for generating and propelling the obesity epidemic (which, by the way, seems to have just about leveled off). The editorial attacks the soda companies for not trying to reduce customers caloric intake even faster!

Here's the truly confusing part: Americans caloric intake from sugary drinks has been trending downward. Customers are wising up, and soda makers are struggling to maintain their plump bottom lines. So let s parse this...accusation? Or praise? The Times acknowledges that sugar-soda-calories are declining, but they attribute that to soda-drinkers coming to their senses, rather than from anything the companies are doing to educate them. They finish that ultra-confusing sentence by taking the companies to task for both their riches and for their empty pockets simultaneously. This is a neat semantic trick, worthy possibly of their occasional columnist, Mark Bittman.

Educating the public about excessive caloric intake as a cause of obesity is a worthy goal, and while governments can undertake this effort, there is no reason why companies themselves cannot participate yet, this salutary initiative seems to makes them suspect in the Times eyes. It is, in essence, a good thing that the Times is also opposed to a renewed effort to tax or ban super-sized sodas, a proposal that made New York a laughing-stock last year. It would be helpful if the Mayor, the Health Department and Big Soda worked together to reduce caloric intake, and also encourage healthy, calorie-burning exercise.