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June 27, 2017

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Sugar-coating the problem of obesity solves nothing

Sugar-loving people rejoiced Monday when a New York Supreme Court judge invalidated Mayor Michael Bloomberg's well-intentioned soda ban, arguing that the bill was "fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences."

So what happens next? Should you catch up with your daily Big Gulps before the city appeals the decision? Is all hope lost for parents to rein in their children's consumption of sugary drinks? We hope that Bloomberg will appeal the ruling and the city will eventually clamp down on the beverage industry in the U.S.

Without such ground-breaking measures, it would be harder to tackle the obesity epidemic that causes misery for many thousands who suffer from heart disease and diabetes. Although controversial for soda libertarians, conservatives and the carbonated beverage sector, we should all be thankful to Bloomberg's pro-active health policies, such as the smoking ban in bars and restaurants and the mandatory calorie display on menus that have been copied worldwide since, including in Taiwan.

Without a doubt, sugary drinks are a leading cause of new health epidemics that threaten everybody's health. Taiwan is a country of convenience stores, lunch boxes, street foods and sugary drinks; an island nation where too many meals are eaten on the side of the road or in the office. The resulting increase in obesity is symptomatic of an overworked, sedentary society where the cost of groceries are disproportionately high, especially when compared to the cheap and abundant but ultimately unhealthy soda pops, tea and coffee drinks on offer at the convenience store near you.

Obesity is not an illness that can be cured with a pill, which Taiwanese love to pop at the first sign of any discomfort, and will require radical changes in habit. First and foremost, we need to slow down. Slow food, a gastronomic movement that began in Italy in the '80s encouraging the slow cultivation and consumption of food, could be a possible answer to this growing social problem.

Of course not everyone will have the luxury of eating organic food every day but if an appreciation for eating and the source of those ingredients can be cultivated then perhaps this will influence parents' decision on what to feed their children.

Interestingly enough, it is a misconception that Taipei has the most overweight children. It is in fact rural Taiwan that has the highest proportion of overweight children which could be down to a number of reasons: a lack of public health information, a sudden influx of fast food restaurants and a lack of sports centers and sporting venues. Common problems include high-calorie candy and sugary drinks. There has also been a sharp rise in the consumption of meat as well as a general lack of fruit and vegetables.

Opponents to Bloomberg's ban should recognize the potential benefits on health care costs in the United States, rather that focus on supposed violations of a trivial freedom — the freedom to have an unhealthy lifestyle. Even if the ban goes into effect in the future, there is no limit to how many sugary beverages you can purchase in a given time period.

At least you won't be able to claim that you were not adequately informed about healthy eating or do not have the financial means to buy healthy alternatives. In the meantime, we should calm down and give the soda ban a chance.

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