Friday, June 1

Spinning XL: Soda Pop Ban Spins Away Real News

Most major municipalities have so many problems — flattening employment, degrading infrastructure, diminishing revenue, and driving people away with increasing taxation — that it can be difficult for government officials to set priorities. But it wasn't difficult for New York City's mayor to set priorities.

The priority problem is you. You drink too much soda. 

After several failed attempts at fighting soda consumption, Mayor Bloomberg has found a way to curb consumption. Large sugary drinks are nearly all banned in New York City. Fruit juice, even those with more sugar than soda, and diet drinks will be exempt from the ban. Big milkshakes and oversized beers are still okay. As bad as those things are, Bloomberg knows he has to pick and choose his battles.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” Bloomberg told The New York Times. "New York City is not about wringing your hands; it's about doing something."


With 32-ounce sodas finally outlawed, New York City citizens will have to look for 2-for-1 16-ounce cup sales at their local movie theaters, grocery stores, and convenience stores. The seriousness of this escapade cannot be understated. Bloomberg and others like him are excited to regulate your health, with many cities expected to follow suit.



Bloomberg says that the public wants him to do it. Maybe that makes sense, especially for the portion of the public that apparently does not have the will power to say no. According to the sourced CBS Health Pop story, the city health department says 34 percent of New Yorkers are overweight and 22 percent are obese. One in five school children is also obese. 


You can't tell people to consume less and exercise more, one health professor said. If she is given huge amounts of food, she is going to eat it. Egad. Keep your hands and feet away.


We saw similar attempts to regulate health two years ago, when some people said they don't want Ronald McDonald around either. McDonald's is a frequent target of such bans, including a case where San Francisco banned Happy Meal toys. McDonald's eventually side-stepped the ban, offering the toys for a 10 cent donation to the Ronald McDonald House Charity. 


But that's not where the real story ends. It's where the spin story begins. 


When government officials and politicians embrace headlines that can be likened to the top five ways to get media attention, it almost assuredly means that there is more important but less popular news to consider. What it is in New York is anybody's guess. But the soft drink ban certainly spun away the comptroller's finding that New Yorkers were over-billed by contractors


In fact, on a quick article recap count, the soda pop story beat the comptroller story by a margin of  10:1 because Americans love their news like their soft drinks — full of sugary goodness. Ergo, what's more exciting and sharable: a $2 billion project over budget by $700 million (up to $50 million in erroneous overcharges) or a soda pop ban? The numbers don't lie. Soda pop wins. 


The story swap spin tactic isn't confined to New York City either. With two contestants for the upcoming presidential election clearly defined, trumping real topics like the economy is already pretty commonplace. You know, never mind unemployment or government debt or foreign relations. It's safer to talk about birth certificates, lifestyle choices, and other sound bites. 
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