Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Soda Situation

As a former pseudo-New Yorker (I returned to Michigan last year after 3 years living/working in Manhattan and Brooklyn), I’ve been following the NYC soda ban issue for quite some time. 

I have never really been much of a soda drinker, and consider myself to practice fairly health-conscious habits on a regular basis.  So, when I first heard of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed war against the sugary beasts that are mega-sized soft drinks, I was all too eager to jump on board. 

My exposure to the topic began while living in New York.  Evidence of the effort to educate people on the harmful effects of sugary beverages can be found almost everywhere.  From the graphic posters of sugar packets turning into oozing lard as they pour into soda bottles to the gut-wrenching commercials of obese children being ostracized on the playground, the City of New York makes very clear their stance on unhealthy obsessions with glucose.  Efforts such as this advertising campaign, along with the recently proposed size limitations on certain soft drinks are aimed at one goal: education.  While many will wave their arms and shout from the rooftops that these actions represent an attempt to play the controlling role of “big brother,” I would argue that the city is merely trying to educate people on the harmful effects of a potent “drug” that is wreaking havoc on our society.  Bloomberg and his supporters are sending a message that, just like alcohol and tobacco, unrestricted sugar consumption has major consequences.  The ultimate decision of whether or not to gulp down these drinks has NOT been taken away from the individual consumer!  Everyone is free to continue to purchase the beverages they want, when they want them, wherever they go.  The proposed ban on super-sized beverages merely serves to remind the general public that such drinks are best treated as “desserts” rather than as the nutritional supplements that some people seem to believe them to be. 

I know many will inherently disagree with my opinions—and truth be told, I wavered for a while on my own position.  However, in an effort to deviate from my typical “I can see both sides” perspective, I perused through as much factual and opinionated information I could find and settled on this side of the coin, or rather soda can.  I suppose it is always best to err on the side of health and education. :-)

Now that the whole “where do you stand” thing has been covered, it’s time to move into some teaching ideas.  As a future biology instructor, I think this is a perfect subject to tackle in class.  The soda proposal is grounded in scientific studies that link excess sugar consumption to health problems, including obesity and diabetes.   Since it is a popular media topic, students would likely find the electronic newspaper and magazine articles and editorials interesting and fairly easy to read, but these sources could be used to segue into reading scientific journal articles that support the general content.  Additionally, I can envision several possibilities for laboratory exercises ranging from simple tests for analyzing the amount of sugar found in various common food items to more elaborate experiments measuring the direct impact of sugar on microorganisms (which actually can be done quite feasibly using Daphnia and typical lab supplies/equipment).

Despite the divergent opinions on the actual proposed policy, this soda debate brings to light some critical issues about public health and our own food consumption that I believe provide a great “teachable moment” that we as educators should not let pass by!


  1. Paula - I am happy to have finally read your blog on the NYC soda ban, as we are in general agreement that, if anything, the controversy presents at the very least, a 'teachable moment". And certainly more than a moment, as Mayor Bloomberg has been working to safeguard the health and welfare of New Yorkers as only an independent billionaire politician can.

    We have chosen a career in education to educate, not only the secondary school students that will become our primary charge, but the citizens and (hopefully informed) voters they will become. What could be more noble?

  2. I like your extension on our role as educators...we truly ARE called to educate more than just then students in our classrooms. We serve as role models for the community as a whole, and the students in our classroom today will soon be members of that community. I think it will serve us well to keep in mind that we are teaching more than content and "proper" behavior; we are teaching our students how to be informed, active, and conscientious citizens!

  3. Paula, your descriptions of the scare-tactic ads in New York were fantastic. I often think that if we had more of those ads, people would think twice about their actions. But I have learned that is hopeful thinking. The smoking ban in England is fantastic. I loved being able to walk into a pub or night club and breathe freely. Yet there were still people going across the street and pulling out their crumpled cigarette packs with "SMOKING KILLS" and "CIGARETTES CAUSE LUNG CANCER" emblazoned across the front. They have learned to block out the warnings and continue their bad habits for the sake of being stubborn.

    In my blog, I ultimately took the position that I didn't want the government to regulate my caffeine intact. It was hard to come to terms with my decision because I have always loathed people resisting laws because they think "Big Brother" is taking over- even if the policies are helping them. I want to scream at the right wing politicians complaining about health care costs, and tell them that getting rid of smoking could cut out a lot of their expenses.

    Your blog made be think, perhaps a lesson on this ban could turn into an activity about advertising and campaigns- what information is persuasive, to what extent are people willing to accept intervention? Thanks for getting me thinking!