Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Water water everywhere...

If you haven't heard this news, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces in NYC, as a response to the obesity epidemic.

I'm not a big fan of laws designed to save us from ourselves. I appreciate the smoking bans, because I've been in restaurants where I couldn't enjoy my meal because there was smoke being blown on my face, but it doesn't keep me from enjoying a movie if the guy next to me is drinking a 20 ounce soda.

I know I've written a few posts here that make me seem like I'm some kind of champion of bad health, so I'd like to do the opposite today. I'd like to ask that instead of making laws to save us from ourselves, like no large sodas, they should make laws to help us be healthy.

For example:

A few years ago, I gave up soda. I used to drink one can of Coke every evening with dinner, and I decided I wasn't going to do that anymore. Now I mostly only drink water (or Gatorade when I get very dehydrated). I do think soft drinks are pretty unhealthy, although I mainly stopped doing it because I wanted to eliminate caffeine. Thanks to my example, my husband stopped drinking soda at home too. And my daughter drinks mostly water or milk.

On a recent road trip, we stopped at a McDonald's off the highway. I got a chicken sandwich and I wanted a water to drink. Was it actually possible to get tap water to drink in a cup? No. I had to purchase a bottle of water.

Then when I went to fill the bottle up with more water later, there was no "water" option at the soda station. I could have gotten any sugary beverage I wanted, but not water. So I went to the counter, hoping they could help me:

Me: "Can you fill this bottle up with tap water for me?"

Cashier: "No."

Me: "Really? You mean there's no way I can just get plain water?"

Cashier: "Nope, sorry."

I finally filled it up in the bathroom. Still, it's an outrage that in mall food courts and many chain restaurants (ranging from McDonald's to Chipotles), you can't just get plain water to drink. This happens to me all the time. I'm at the mall food court and I ask for a cup of water with my food, and they look at me like I'm crazy. I've been refused or I've been given a tiny cup that contained three swallows of water. Even if I offer to pay for price of the cup, sometimes they won't give it to me.

Instead of trying to save us from ourselves and banning 20 ounce drinks, I think Mayor Bloomberg et al. should make it easier for those of us who want to avoid sugary drinks to do so! Whatever else you can say about the health value of these foods, soda is certainly tons of empty calories. If you agree, urge local vendors to make water more readily available!

26 comments:

  1. It's long been my belief that if we want to make large-scale changes in obesity rates that we need to focus on societal changes such as the one that Mayor Bloomberg is proposing. The rise in obesity rates corresponds with major changes in our societal food habits (larger/more readily available fast food, unhealthier options in grocery stores), and while self control can certainly help individuals to be healthier within this environment, I think it's failed miserably as a strategy for society-wide change.

    Fortunately, it's not an either-or proposition. Why not have Mayor Bloomberg ban large drinks AND promote the availability of water at the same time?

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    1. I just think we should be allowed to have a choice when it comes to food. In the past, when I've bought a very large drink, it's because I wanted to share it... and I saved money by doing that rather than buying two drinks. The way I found out about this was that I was watching the Daily Show, and Jon Stewart was lamenting that he actually agreed with the Tea Partiers that this was a stupid ban :)

      I think that larger portions are a problem, but the thing is, that's not a choice. When I go to a restaurant and order a meal, it's always HUGE. I can't ask them give me the small lasagna... the only option is to a get a huge meal. So there's no choice there. But I can choose to buy a smaller beverage.

      I do agree with some laws to save us from ourselves though, like helmet and seatbelt laws.

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  2. The thing is, they wouldn't have those 20 oz of soda is people weren't DRINKING them...nobody needs 20 oz of soda, EVER. But now, its become almost the default option...its hard to get a smaller amount. If smaller amounts were the default (like in Europe), people would drink less---OR they'd buy two and drink the same amount I have no idea, I can only drink 8-10 oz of any beverage at one sitting. I'm curious to see what happens. I don't think Bloomberg's idea is a BAD thing, but maybe just ineffective.
    I agree with Solitary, it doesn't have to be either or. I've never had issues getting water to drink at restaurants...there is usually an option on the soda fountain machine for water, or they'll fill it up for you.

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    1. Well, what if two teenagers go to the movies on a date and want to buy a soda? They can either get the huge one for $6 and share it, or two smaller ones for $5.50 each and have their own. You're costing teenagers extra money!!! :)

      I have persistently found this water issue to be a problem. I've noticed it at least three times at fast food restaurants, where the fountain didn't have a water option. And it's always an issue at the mall food court.

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  3. Here is a small counter point:
    Just as I am bothered by smoke in restaurants and bars, I am also bothered by overweight people taking up more than their allotted space on plains and trains and public venues. Furthermore, my tax dollars and my health insurance premiums are used to pay for the consequences of obesity. It can be argued that the megadrinks and megafoods consumed by other people are just as problematic (if not more so!) as the cigarettes being smoked by other people.

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    1. I agree that the obesity epidemic hurts everyone. But at the same time, I don't think eliminating the option of getting a very large beverage is going to touch it. Instead of taking away our choices, why not require restaurants to offer more healthy options (i.e. water)?

      Also, one thing they've done recently in NYC is to require restaurants to show the number of calories in each dish. And wow, that is eye opening. I think that actually might help.

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    2. There are studies that havs shown that calorie displays do nothing to make people change their choices i ths real world eye opening though they may be.

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    3. I'm surprised to hear that, OMDG, because I personally have made decisions based on those calorie displays, and I'm not even really watching calories.

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    4. Are you talking about calorie displays in a little book somewhere or the ones right on the menu like they have in NYC?

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    5. No I'm talking about the ones on display in the restaurants by the menus. I'm not surprised that YOU change your behavior. I've changed my behavior as well (at least I think I have.... maybe I'm overestimating this). However you're not typical of most Americans. Also, it wouldn't surprise me to find that a lot of people thought they'd changed their behavior, but when it was actually measured objectively, it hadn't changed that much in reality.

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    6. I'm just curious... do you have a link to a study abstract?

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    7. Yes:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21961472

      BACKGROUND:

      Nutrition labeling of menus has been promoted as a means for helping consumers make healthier food choices at restaurants. As part of national health reform, chain restaurants will be required to post nutrition information at point-of-purchase, but more evidence regarding the impact of these regulations, particularly in children, is needed.
      PURPOSE:

      To determine whether nutrition labeling on restaurant menus results in a lower number of calories purchased by children and their parents.
      METHODS:

      A prospective cohort study compared restaurant receipts of those aged 6-11 years and their parents before and after a menu-labeling regulation in Seattle/King County (S/KC) (n=75), with those from a comparison sample in nonregulated San Diego County (SDC) (n=58). Data were collected in 2008 and 2009 and analyzed in 2010.
      RESULTS:

      In S/KC, there was a significant increase from pre- to post-regulation (44% vs 87%) in parents seeing nutrition information, with no change in SDC (40% vs 34%). Average calories purchased for children did not change in either county (823 vs 822 in S/KC, 984 vs 949 in SDC). There was an approximately 100-calorie decrease for the parents postregulation in both counties (823 vs 720 in S/KC, 895 vs 789 in SDC), but no difference between counties.
      CONCLUSIONS:

      A restaurant menu-labeling regulation increased parents' nutrition information awareness but did not decrease calories purchased for either children or parents.

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    8. Well, maybe the message here is that none of these laws and regulations help people reduce their calories.

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    9. I just wanted to point out that, at least for me, the calorie display works. I am a very heavy person and changing my habits has proven to be a challenge. However, after eating out at Chili's where calories are not displayed, I decided to hunt around for the calorie charts on their foods. WHOAAA! It was certainly an eye opener. In one meal, I had eaten more than 2,000 calories!! We have never gone back, nor will we. If such information had been posted, we would've left without dining. If this information were prominently displayed it would certainly affect my habits.

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  4. I have no idea about the economics of the water industry, but I also think it's ridiculous that in some places, a huge soda is cheaper than a dinky bottle of water.

    I'm okay with banning sodas/junk food vending machines in schools though.

    I don't know if publishing calories really helps...I'd be curious to know if someone did a study on it though. Personally speaking, places like Jamba Juice, Starbucks, and fast food chains here in SF publish the calories, fat, sodium etcetc, but I honestly never read them unless the line isn't moving. Maybe if a person is on a diet and is counting calories, they might be more likely to pick it up, but I don't see a lot of people reading them in places I go to.

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    1. I agree with banning junky vending machines in schools. And I'm okay with some laws to protect ourselves, like seatbelts or helmets. But I feel like as adults, we should be allowed to make our own choices about something as mundane as soft drinks.

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  5. I get a little annoyed when people play the "personal choice" card with things like this. What is actually happening is that they are being manipulated by the food industry. Of course people will buy the largest size when the small is only 50 cents less, then they end up drinking it all. I think it would be very rare for those people to ask for two drinks because they don't actually want the huge amount, they just want a good deal.

    Also, I think the water thing may be dependent on the area. I've lived mostly in California and Washington and have never been looked at like I was crazy for asking for a cup for water, even at the mall food court.

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    1. Well, I don't live on the west coast. That particular interaction in my post happened in Connecticut.

      What about people who buy the large and share it (because it's cheaper), instead of two mediums? I keep saying this because it's something I've done all the time.

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    2. Yes, the teenagers of the world are screwed.

      What is the limit, 16 ounces? How horrible is it to only have 8 ounces anyway? That is a serving size.

      I agree that water should be more available though. I mean you need something to wash down those tubs of salty, buttery popcorn!

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    3. I feel like 8 ounces isn't nearly enough for me during a meal. I like to drink a lot. I'll usually have two glasses of water during a meal. And I'm a small person, so I could imagine an adult man or something would want to drink more.

      Also, what about the argument that people eat less when they drink more? I've read that a trick to lose weight is to drink a glass of water before a meal.

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  6. As for the study OMDG cited, I wonder if there would be a more profound difference in people who eat out frequently vs. people who eat out rarely. I don't eat out much, so when I do it's a treat and I'm less likely to pay attention to calorie counts. If I ate out once a week, maybe I'd be more conscious of it. Alternatively, if I eat out once a week or more, maybe I don't care about healthy eating at all. Maybe it evens out, I just think it probably does have a sig. effect in some subsets of people.

    I'm all for laws to protect safety like seatbelts and helmets, but I think this is a slippery slope to go down. Where do we stop? We do have problems with obesity and whatnot, but I don't think laws like this are the best approach to change people's behavior ultimately and there might be a better use of funds for getting people to willingly shift towards more healthful behavior.

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  7. Oh, and I do agree with Fizzy about the dang water issue. People should always have access to at least tap water (in more than a little one ounce dixie cup ;-)

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  8. I pretty much carry a stainless steel 1 litre bottle of water at all times. I drink a lot of water, plus I don't want or need a disposable cup. One more small way of helping the earth. I carry milk for my kids anyway; what's one more thing? :)

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  9. I've actually never seen a soda fountain w/o a water tab. Granted, it's not full-sized w/a huge label like the paid-for beverages, but it's there and is usually attached to the non-carbonated option like iced tea or lemonade. Here's an image for you! Good luck in your search! http://img543.imageshack.us/img543/7474/watertab.png

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    1. Thanks for the image, but believe me, I'm aware of the water tab. But some McDonald's don't have them, I swear.

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