Combatting Sugar

Sounding a sour note about combatting sugar

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

Rarely have I been so supportive of a concern, yet so against the method being proposed to address it. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is completely right to be wrought-up about sugar.

As the title of a book written 40 years ago so aptly described it, sugar is Pure, White and Deadly. Americans consume way, way too much of it. And we’re paying the price for our indiscretion.

Diabetes is fast becoming a national crisis. Obesity is rampant. And the statistics are getting worse, not better. So it would seem that anything we can do to curb sugar intake should be welcomed with open arms. But effectively changing long-established behavioral norms is no simple undertaking.

First, there’s the practical/functional aspect to consider: What works? Will legislation effectively curb something so widespread–especially something that’s so uniformly viewed as every citizen’s right? Our national experiment with Prohibition suggests it won’t.

As the cliche goes: Forbidden fruit is sweet. When we tell people they can’t have something, they want it all the more. Few Americans–vendors or buyers–won’t bristle when told they can no longer make their own decisions concerning how big a container they can fill with soft drink.

Second, there’s the “goose and gander” issue. If I’m justified in seeking legislation to rein in your sugar consumption, why aren’t you justified in seeking government help to rein in my behaviors that you disapprove of? Soon we’ll have Big Brother lurking in every shadow.

Interestingly, most of the world’s religions recognize the integral relationship between mind, body and spirit. With few exceptions, religions call for balance: total abstinence from some things, moderation in others. Our disagreements tend to center around what behaviors call for total abstinence versus moderation.

Sugar consumption would seem to be an area where religion and science agree about the benefit of moderation. We need to pursue a course more conducive to overall well-being.

Clearly, sugar consumption–in a variety of forms, not just in soft drinks–has truly reached alarming proportions in the United States. But wouldn’t an all-out education and inspiration campaign be a lot better as both an initial and ongoing approach?

Such a campaign doesn’t have to be done in a guilt-tripping, you’re-a-second-class-citizen-if-you-don’t-conform manner. It can be factual. It can be memorable. It can be humorous–but without insulting anyone, of course. It can be creative.

Mayor Bloomberg is to be commended for standing up and being counted concerning a real problem with frightening long-term implications. I just think he could go about it in a more effective way.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.