Companies should not be punished for making you fat

by Max Miller – Staff Writer – nmiller@unca.edu

You would balk at a world where cigarettes are included in a combo meal at McDonald’s, or where cigarettes are available to children at schools.

This hypothetical world probably seems absurd to you, as it should. But this is the world some people envision when they think about soda.

Soft drinks are attacked for being a leading cause in the obesity epidemic in America, but those who point an accusing finger at PepsiCo Inc. and its fiendish brethren are misplacing the blame that should fall upon the same roly-poly soda drinkers they aim to defend.

Soda is definitely unhealthy, especially in the kind of quantities many Americans consume, but it is meant to be enjoyed in moderation. It is up to the consumers in this country to learn healthier habits.     Punishing soft drink companies or having the government create policies to cast a safety net might seem like a good idea in the short term, but it will do nothing to curb behaviors that cause Americans to gorge themselves to the point of obesity.

Critics argue the availability of soda in America runs too deep and corporations assault consumers with ubiquitous advertising enticing them to choose a Coke with every meal.

And while this is probably the case for select individuals, studies show soda sales have actually dropped in the past year. The average consumer is not an idiot.

He or she is capable of recognizing the harmful effects of soft drinks and either consuming them in moderation or cutting them out completely.

But what about the poorer consumers? Soda is dirt cheap these days, sometimes cheaper than water, and is a tempting sugary treat for someone on a budget. When coupled with a generally lower level of education, it is not surprising the demographics for poverty and obesity overlap considerably.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City sought to combat the problem by banning the sale of soft drinks and other sugary beverages in cups larger than 16 ounces in restaurants citywide. The controversial law, passed last summer, was met with widespread disdain from citizens.

Six out of 10 New Yorkers say they think the plan is ineffective.

And that is because it is. It does not matter that a sugary drink is under 16 ounces if someone is drinking one every day with every meal. The problem is in behavior, not volume.

If the government feels the need to combat obesity, it must focus on behavior instead of passing pointless laws that only appear to work on the surface.

Even the oft-maligned soda corporations recognize this fact. The Coca-Cola Company recently began airing an ad that concedes Coke contributes to obesity. The ad notes the company has taken steps to changing the consumer’s behavior such as prominently labeling cans with calorie content and offering a diverse array of low- or no-calorie alternatives.

Placing the focus on behavior is more important now than ever because our attitudes toward soda and other unhealthy diet choices will influence how the next generation acts.

With soda machines being outright banned from many public schools, kids are going to grow up with the notion that authority figures are going to swoop in and save them from themselves.

Instead of learning they can enjoy a soft drink occasionally, they are being taught the only way to resist the temptation of soda is to have it taken away from them completely.

I realize it seems like an uphill battle to argue for enormous corporations that market unhealthy products to a wide audience that includes children. But soda consumers cannot remain so lackadaisical about their responsibility. The companies should not be punished because their customers have chosen to consume their product in excess.

Their goal has always been selling as much soda as possible, but their tactics have never been malicious. It is the consumers who, out of laziness, have convinced themselves it is OK to drink entire 2-liters in one sitting or have a Pepsi at breakfast.

Instead of resorting to drastic measures, schools and parents should begin teaching their children better dieting behavior as early as possible, and adult consumers should make conscious efforts to make soda an occasional treat instead of a dietary staple.

To continue the way things are going now will only raise a generation of victims when we need a generation proactive enough to make lasting change.

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