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Amanda Zani: Education trumps legislation in shaping eating habits

Recently, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City proposed a restriction on sugar-sweetened beverages, which was then passed by the New York City’s Board of Health. It placed a limit on the size of beverages (up to 16 ounces) sold in food service establishments.

The intention was to reduce the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which in turn leads to obesity. But just as placing an age requirement on the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol consumption can make smoking and drinking more desirable for those restricted, putting limits on soda can make that drink more appealing, especially for children.

Yes, something needs to be done about the obesity epidemic and, yes, obesity has been linked to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, but people need to be educated on why sugar-sweetened beverages are detrimental to health. More funding should be directed to wellness programs in our schools. Children deserve to be educated about healthy eating and the importance of physical activity so that they can make good decisions for their well-being.

When people believe their rights are being taken away, even with something as small as the size of beverage they can purchase, there will be an angry reaction. In fact, there already has been. People in New York City have extremely strong beliefs about their freedom and public debates are taking place. It has turned into a battle of rights and freedom and that is not worth fighting. People should be able to choose. However, these same people should also be properly educated. Investing money in our school systems and promoting better health practices are key and will save money in the end when the children of this generation are able to avoid diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other diet-related illnesses. Prevention has been and will always be cost effective.

Amanda Zani is a senior studying nutrition at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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