Portion Control

New York City has been in the news again lately, this time for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to restrict restaurant soda sales to 16 ounces. His reasoning? He told MSNBC, “The percentage of the population that is obese is skyrocketing. We’ve got to do something.”

In an editorial on USAToday.com, Dr. Deborah Cohen, of the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corporation said Bloomberg is right in advocating portion control as a way to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S. Bloomberg has been quoted as saying, “You tend to eat all of the food in the container. If it’s bigger, you eat more. If somebody put a smaller glass or plate or bowl in front of you, you would eat less.” Cohen agrees, writing that the mayor’s proposal “opens the door to one of the most important solutions to address obesity: portion control.”

According to both Bloomberg and Cohen the average person is apparently too stupid to regulate consumption on his or her own, and therefore needs to government to do it. Cohen points out that, “The Agriculture Department has established serving sizes for every type of food available — although there are no regulations applying portion sizes to restaurants.” That’s because the Agriculture Department has developed what are known as “recommended daily allowances.” The key phrase there is “recommended.” If the government wants to conduct the research necessary to determine what a healthy quantity of foods, or food categories, would be for a person, then it can do so, I suppose (though even the necessity of that is dubious at best). However, for the government to get into the business of determining how much of a food can be served to any person is a serious violation of a free market society, not to mention the “inalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness referenced in our Constitution.

Bloomberg pointed out that is someone really wants more than 16 ounces of soda there will be no restriction on that person buying another one. I have not seen what impact the restriction will have on free refills offered at some restaurants; perhaps as long as no more than 16 ounces is served at one time that will be okay, I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care.

See, Cohen’s editorial is headlined, “Bloomberg right that portion control works.” And with that statement I agree. Unfortunately, that’s about the end of my agreement with Dr. Cohen. See, she thinks, as does His Honor Mayor Bloomberg, that the government needs to control the portions for me (or anyone else). I counter that with the argument that portion control does indeed work–but if someone does not care enough about his or her health to restrict their own portions, the government has no business doing it on their behalf.

I have no problem leaving some of the food on my plate if I get full, or leaving some of the drink in my glass if I do not need any more. If someone cannot do that–if someone is so lacking in self control that he simply must eat and drink everything that is set before him–he has problems that go way beyond the sugar content of a 16 ounce soda. It’s still his problem, though; not mine, not yours, and certainly not the government’s (at any level).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my 20 ounce soda….