A side of fries that took three potatoes to make, burritos as girthy as your forearm, and burgers so big you could dislocate your jaw.
The recipe for overeating really is quite simple: All you need is a heap of cheap food and gigantic portions mixed with relentless advertising campaigns and round-the-clock availability. In America, we have all the ingredients to cook up a nation full of porksters.
In early June, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a ban on the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 oz. for New York restaurants, arenas and movie theaters to combat the explosion of obesity in America.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 32 percent of Americans are obese, with 42 percent expected to be obese by 2030.
When we first heard about Bloomberg’s proposal, our knee-jerk reaction was much like the rest of the country; we scoffed at the seeming futility of such a fizz-brained, draconian proposition. But after mulling it over, we’ve changed our mind.
No, we don’t think Bloomberg’s policy will drastically change the obesity rate in New York, but we think it will make an impact. We think the new restriction, if passed, will send a positive message that could change eating habits.
In an MSNBC interview, Bloomberg cites the “bottomless” bowl of soup study performed by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More.
“You tend to eat all the food in the container in front of you,” Bloomberg said in the interview. “We are forcing you to understand you are making a conscious decision to go from one cup to another cup.”
In the study, Wansink created bowls that could be filled by hidden tubes and compared the eating habits of people with the normal bowl and those with a bottomless bowl. People with the normal bowl ate 9 oz. of soup while those with a bottomless bowl ate 15 oz, but the bottomless bowl group reported that they were no more full than the other group.
"Most of us have too much chaos going on in our lives to consciously focus on every bite we eat, and then ask ourselves if we're full,” Wansink said. “The secret is to change your environment so it works for you rather than against you.”
For example, in a Center for Disease Control growth chart of fast food portion sizes since the 1950s, the average soda has grown nearly six times in volume. The average portion for a hamburger and fries has tripled, and now Americans weigh, on average, 26 pounds more than our 1950s counterparts.
One of the main complaints we’ve heard about Bloomberg’s policy is that America is a free country, and “I don’t want anyone telling me what I can do.” But in this case New York residents aren’t being denied 64 oz. of highly-sugared soda. If that’s what they really want, they just have to get another cup if they are in a restaurant.
Like Wansink suggested, Bloomberg is trying to change the environment to increase New Yorkers’ chances for success in their health and wellness goals. In our mind, the only ones who might suffer from this policy are the soft drink companies. But soft drink companies are concerned with increasing consumption of their products, not the health of the public.
Let’s not sugar coat it, we’re fat and we’re getting fatter. Critics of Bloomberg’s proposition, including the New York Times editorial board, say the mayor should focus his energies on programs that educate people and encourage them to make better choices. But if education about overeating really worked, shouldn’t the nation’s obesity rate have been going down and not up over the past decade when studies on obesity starting making front page news on a monthly basis?
Like Bloomberg said, the policy is not perfect, but we think the nation’s meal portions (and waistlines) are overdue for a downsizing.