Has New York Mayor Bloomberg already made Americans soda shy?
The New York State Supreme Court wisely rejected New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of super-sized sodas, but people who once loved 32-ounce sodas may, wisely, be banning the drinks on their own.
After all, ordering an extra-large drink of soda in New York with your sandwich or pizza, if you’re overweight, is now more likely to invite subtle shakes of the head and knowing glances exchanged a few tables away.
People may end up “soda shy,” despite the lack of a soda ban.
This brings up the very good question of whether more can be achieved by leaders who are willing to be bold and challenging of harmful behaviors, rather than trying to outlaw them.
From a psychological perspective, Mayor Bloomberg may have already achieved what his failed law never could have: he's already tapped into most people’s inherent desire to be accepted and respected by the community.
It’s OK to say it publicly and make people feel it privately: Killing yourself by being 50 or 60 pounds overweight while giving in to the marketing of 400-calorie sodas is being weak and foolish. Your behavior is embarrassing. You should be ashamed of yourself.
The same happens to be true, by the way, for people who get drunk a lot and screw up their relationships: Your behavior is embarrassing. You should be ashamed of yourself.
A law that bans 32-ounce sodas risks inviting people to exercise their autonomy by getting around the law (as in, ordering two 16-ounce sodas). And that's a good thing. Many adults, thankfully, still object to being treated like 5-year-olds.
But a moral position that identifies purveyors of 32-ounce sodas as no better than drug pushers (which is also true, in my opinion) and consumers of 32-ounce sodas as no healthier than alcoholics (which is also true), invites people to exercise their autonomy and resolve by rejecting products that defeat their better intentions and make them no more than walking billboards advertising the power of marketing to overwhelm individual judgment.
Rather than announcing a ban on sodas (which the courts will, I hope, reject again, if it is ever reintroduced), Mayor Bloomberg would have a lot more success calling on people to stop being patsies for the corporate profits of soda kings. If he urged people to stop demonstrating to other people at the table next to theirs, that they obviously think it’s OK to drink themselves into oblivion, whether with vodka or orange soda.
Whatever money Mayor Bloomberg might think about spending to enforce a soda ban, it would be better be spent—in terms of psychological bang for the buck—on billboards showing round people literally rolling down Broadway, filled with bubbly beverages.
Even better: Spend a total of $5,000 or $10,000 on two massive, portly, blow-up "people-balls" and roll them through Central Park now and then. The mayor could get lots of media coverage of the “Soda Morons’” big night out on the town, rolling down the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue.
Those images might just guilt people into buying a smaller, 12-ounce glass of soda.
And guilt is sometimes OK.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.