Did you know that New York City was recently ranked the seventh craziest city in America, based on psychiatrists per capita, stress levels, eccentricity, and alcohol consumption? If one were to judge on its politicians’ ideas, though, the Big Apple would be a shoo-in to receive the “wacko” blue ribbon.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, this loony bin also serves as an incubator for ill-advised trends that eventually go national. Remember the trans fat ban? It got its start in NYC.
Last week, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed draconian zoning laws to ban some fast food restaurants from operating, supposedly to fight childhood obesity. Never mind that research last year from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found that living in the vicinity of fast food restaurants had little to no effect on children's weight, or that after a fast food ban was implemented in south Los Angeles, RAND Corporation research found that “the premises for the ban were questionable.”
Alas, this isn’t the only rotten policy proposal coming out of the Big Apple. It’s simply the latest development in a culture of meddling bureaucracy, revenue-starved politics, and self-righteous activism.
Unbelievably, New York state legislators Eric Adams and Felix Ortiz, who represent Brooklyn, have introduced legislation to prohibit the use of salt by restaurants in the preparation of food anywhere in the state. Violation of this would result in a $1,000 fine.
And consider last year’s launch of NYC’s anti-soft drink campaign. Now, a reasonable person could understand that drinking too much soda, or any beverage with calories, leads to weight gain. But the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene took it one step too far. How? By sponsoring stomach-turning subway ads depicting soft drinks turning into—literally—globs of yellow fat. This is what happens when food purists watch too many episodes of “Scared Straight.”
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last October found no link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and children’s weight. This follows a 2008 review in the same journal that aggregated years of research and found no association between sugary drinks and weight gain in children.
As for the belief that population-wide salt reductions will reduce blood pressure, some researchers aren’t convinced. A 2002 review in the British Medical Journal found, “It is unclear what effects a low sodium diet has on cardiovascular events and mortality.” And the editor of the American Journal of Hypertension told the New York Daily News that the recent effort to urge food companies to reformulate salt levels amounts to “an experiment on a whole population.”
Poor science rarely stops politicians desperately seeking dough. New York Governor David Patterson has singled out sugary drinks in an effort to slap a large statewide tax on them to help reduce his budget deficit.
Fortunately, the tax has gone nowhere. But you know politicians are really reaching when they play the “it’s for the children” card. “If you're against it, you really are against the kids,” Mayor Bloomberg vented on his radio show recently.
Bloomberg has even compared salt to asbestos as justification for pushing invasive big government policies: “If we know there’s asbestos in a school room what do you expect us to do? Say it’s not our business? I don't think so. The same thing is true with food.”
Let’s hope that what happens in New York stays in New York. At least regarding food fascism.
J. Justin Wilson is the senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.