What Drives Subconscious Behavioral Change?


This post continues a discussion about a paper titled “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” published by the McKinsey Institute. The major topic is conscious and subconscious mechanisms, and we left off with the question of what drives subconscious behavioral change.

Two answers are: option availability and information architecture, which is variation in how information is presented. The authors also identify three forms of influence: choice architecture (variation in how choices are presented), priming (exposure to a specific stimuli), and social norms. One way or another, subconscious mechanisms are said to “reset the default.”

The authors state that “subconscious interventions share three important traits” and then go into quite meticulous detail about those traits. First is their nature, which is structural, in that they change the structure of the rules or of the material surroundings:

This can mean literal changes in the physical environment, such as closing off parts of a city to vehicular traffic. Or it can mean expanding or restricting choices — changing school canteen provisions or redefining the standard size of a coffee shop muffin.

Second, structural interventions are far-reaching and apply to a wide population:

For example, changes to school curricula apply to all schoolchildren. Changes to a food producer’s marketing practices have potential impact across consumer media and marketing channels.

As a result of this far reach, the authors say, “The per capita cost of subconscious interventions is far lower than that of conscious interventions targeted at individuals.” This is an important point but, as it turns out, not an immutable one.

The third characteristic of structural changes is that they tend to be long-lasting, or even permanent. The examples given are if a school system makes its meals more healthful (which may last until the next national election), or if a retailer or supplier reduces the intensity of the promotions offered for certain categories of food or drink.

The new status quo soon becomes the norm — consumers tend to quickly forget the old status quo and may be less likely to question new arrangements.

But then, after all this philosophical discussion, and after several reassurances that subconscious mechanisms work better, and that subconscious interventions have a lower per capita cost than targeted interventions, comes a seemingly contradictory caveat:

For those people who are already struggling with high BMI, subconscious interventions or changes to societal norms are very unlikely to reverse their condition. Targeted interventions are needed, even if they are not the most cost-effective.

At the same time, the authors say, for most of the individuals who are subjected to targeted interventions (such as education and motivational tools), even if that intervention induces a change in behavior, the treatment will still need to be supplemented by subconscious, structural changes.

So, to review, subconscious interventions are more effective than the conscious kind, and are also more cost-effective — except when they’re not. The authors state:

We should note that the two subconscious interventions that do not deliver high impact and cost-effectiveness — active transport and healthy meals — nevertheless deliver considerable benefits that do not relate specifically to weight, including improved mental and cardiovascular health, and they mitigate social inequality.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” Groupedebruges.eu, November 2014
Photo credit: luckybusiness/123RF Stock Photo

Conscious and Subconscious Mechanisms


We are looking at a discussion paper from the McKinsey Institute and incidentally wondering if it would tie back to the teaching of a sage called Osho. His contention is that action and activity are two distinct states. Action is natural, needful and appropriate, like eating when you are hungry. Activity is symptomatic, like eating when you are not hungry, but merely propelled into the behavior by compulsion.

Conscious mechanisms

The eight McKinsey Institute authors who collaborated on “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis” teach that “conscious” mechanisms are those which individuals actively participate in or engage with. The examples they give of largely conscious mechanisms include portion control; healthy meals; high-calorie food and beverage availability; and parental education — all of which are under the control of the consumer or patient.

Other conscious mechanisms are things that are done to the subject. The industry tries to encourage overeating with price promotions and reformulation. The government tries to affect what people eat — through subsidies, taxes, pricing rules, and more rules about how, when, and where commercials may be broadcast.

Parental education also belongs on this list, because it is provided to the consumer or patient from two sources — both from the industry, in the form of advertising, and from clinicians and other health professionals, in the form of classes, videos, pamphlets, personal counseling, and so on.

All these things, looked at through the lens held up by Osho, would fall under the heading of “activity” — and activity all too often just churns the waters and leaves them even more muddy than before. As real life demonstrates, even the most well-intentioned conscious mechanisms and interventions often have poor success rates.

Subconscious mechanisms

The McKinsey Institute publication also discusses subconscious mechanisms, those which change the environment that surrounds the patient (or consumer), perhaps in ways that are barely noticeable or even undetectable. One mechanism would be to change the available options, and the example given is providing different food choices in a school cafeteria.

Another subconscious mechanism is causing a shift in the social norms that shape behavior. In the real world, this works much better for the “bad guys” than for the “good guys.” Consider how easy it is for advertisers to portray the consumption of sugar-laden beverages as behavior that should be emulated, if the subject wants to have a good life, fit in, be cool, and so forth. Trying to move the social norm in the other direction, to where guzzling soda is not cool, is a much more difficult and demanding task.


The eight authors of the discussion paper offer these as some examples of subconscious mechanisms: school curriculum; weight-management programs; labeling; workplace wellness; active transport; and public-health campaigns. The rationale gets confusing, because those all seem like quite conscious things. But the thinking is, even though they are deliberately done by humans, they can cause subconscious behavioral change in other humans.

Perhaps these quotations will help:

Most of the interventions in the food and beverage environment are driven by subconscious mechanisms such as limiting access to high-calorie foods, reducing portion sizes, reformulating foods to decrease sugar and fat content, and reducing promotional activity in expandable categories.

Other interventions that rely on subconscious mechanisms include structural changes that determine physical activity levels, such as urban redesign that forces people out of their cars and mandating physical activity in school curricula.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” Groupedebruges.eu, November 2014
Source: “Action vs. Activity,” Paratheatrical.com, undated
Photo credit: rolffimages/123RF Stock Photo

Philosophies of Behavior


People characterize their life struggles in many different ways, because individuals see and understand things differently, and make their own comparisons to other arenas of life. It is interesting to take a step back and see the problem of overeating, for example, from a more cosmic perspective.

These excerpts are from the book Creativity, written by a philosopher known as Osho.

Remember two words: one is action, another is activity… Their natures are diametrically opposite… For example, you are hungry, then you eat — this is action. But you are not hungry, you don’t feel any hunger at all, and still you go on eating — this is activity.

That last sentence is an accurate description of binge eating, of “the sensation of being the pawn of an ungovernable force.” It is the robotic, mechanical motion of behavioral addiction, the irresistible compulsion to insert the hand in the chip bag and convey a load to the mouth and chew and swallow while the hand travels to the bag again, and inexorably returns to the mouth with another load. It is sheer activity.

You are hungry and you seek food, you are thirsty and you go to the well. You are feeling sleepy and you go to sleep. It is out of the total situation that you act. Action is spontaneous and total.

Activity is never spontaneous, it comes from the past. You may have been accumulating it for years, and then it explodes into the present — and it is not relevant.

Again, this sounds familiar to people caught up in binge eating. It is not relevant, because the body does not actually need nourishment. If the body needed fuel, feeding it would be action. But no, this is just the frenetic activity of a behavioral addiction. It comes from the past, rooted in old needs, rejections, abandonments, deprivations, and hurts, and it explodes into the present.

But the mind is cunning and will find rationalizations for the activity. These rationalizations help you to remain unconscious about your madness.

The second document under review is a lengthy (120-pages, 8 authors) discussion paper from the McKinsey Global Institute, a research center which appears to have a finger in every commercial pie. Titled “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” it was issued in 2014, but it addresses matters that are eternal. The challenge here is to find similarities, if any, to the philosophy of Osho.

The world is full of theories about how to quell obesity, and the Institute set out to discover which ideas are doable and cost-effective. In their paper, the researchers designate two types of intervention: conscious and subconscious.

Before going further, consider the extreme utility provided by a “comprehensive portfolio of interventions.” People exist in large variety, and convincing a middle-aged woman is different from convincing a toddler. In other words, these are not only the types of things that need to be known by practitioners who hope to impact obesity. These are also the types of things that advertising agencies have to know, or else go out of business.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Action vs. Activity,” Paratheatrical.com, undated
Source: “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” Groupedebruges.eu, November 2014
Photo credit: David Orban via Visualhunt/CC BY

Is Philadelphia Soda Tax Working? Too Early to Tell


This post will be most comprehensible to readers of “Soda Tax — the Philadelphia Story” and “How did Philadelphia Soda Tax Happen?“. When the venerable metropolis passed its soda tax law, the American Beverage Association of course used adjectives like “regressive” and “discriminatory,” and the industry retaliated against the city in various ways.

For instance… There are three Pepsi plants in the area, and earlier this year the corporation announced that as many as 100 workers would soon be laid off, which sounds to some like petty spite.

Reporter Dan McQuade quoted Lauren Hitt, who spoke on behalf of the city:

The soda industry sank to a new low today. They are literally holding hostage the jobs of hardworking people in their battle to overturn the tax. Pepsi reported nearly $35 billion in gross income and $6 billion in profit last year, their CEO makes $25 million dollars a year, and they along with the beverage industry continue to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and advertising against the tax.

In other words, for the company to convince people that it was so poor it had to lay off workers was a very hard sell indeed. But the Teamsters sided with the industry in hating the tax, claiming that not only Pepsi workers would lose their jobs, but that grocery store employees were being let go. On the other hand, the pre-kindergarten program funded by the tax created 147 full-time teaching positions and 104 other jobs. So that was a plus in the mayor’s and city council’s column.

Then, Temple University announced that the soda tax would somehow cost it $400,000 each semester, so each student’s board rate — their cafeteria bill — would have to be raised by nearly 5%. The city spokesperson pushed back by citing all the unnecessary and extravagant expenses okayed by the university, including the ever-growing administrative staff with its ever-increasing salaries. It was suggested that the educational institution had a history of reflexively and adaptively blaming its tendency to constantly raise tuition and fees on whatever current issue was at hand.

All these particulars illustrate why there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to promoting the soda tax idea, because every city has its own unique set of circumstances and problems. In June of this year, Philadelphia’s soda tax had been in place for six months and had brought in $39.3 million, which was about $300,000 below the projected amount.

Of course, the “Ax the Bev Tax” campaign was still going strong, as well as other oppositional groups. The big boys were still fighting to stay in the ring. Fabiola Cineas reported:

The American Beverage Association recently appealed its lawsuit against the tax, which has already been dismissed twice, once in June and once in December 2016.

Just a few days ago, Investors’ Business Daily published a very critical editorial, accusing the tax of bringing unintended consequences, like falling short of projected revenues and costing jobs. There is even an absurd claim that because soft drinks are now too expensive people “are turning to alcohol instead.”

And, oh, by the way, some Philadelphians have been forced to drive outside the city to grocery shop. Really?

It is also possible that, if people are so desperate for sugar-sweetened beverages that they intentionally waste gas and time to procure SSBs, then maybe we are actually talking about a drug, and maybe even sterner measures need to be taken.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Citing Soda Tax, Pepsi to Lay Off 80 to 100 Philly-Area Workers,” PhillyMag.com, 03/01/17
Source: “Temple University Blames Steep Meal Plan Hike on Soda Tax,” PhillyMag.com, 03/15/17
Source: “Six Months In, Philly Soda Tax Nets $39.3M, Just Shy of Projections,” PhillyMag.com, 07/24/17
Source: “Philly’s Soda-Tax Fiasco,” Investors.com, 8/11/17
Photo credit: f11photo/123RF Stock Photo

How Did Philadelphia Soda Tax Happen?


The soda tax that went into effect at the beginning of 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been the subject of plenty of stories. The Childhood Obesity News discussion of it left off with a question: How did such a reviled and embattled piece of legislation even happen?

It was a compromise. Mayor Kenney actually wanted the tax to be three cents per ounce, with part of the money promised to the city’s general fund, which can be used for anything, like paying off police misconduct and brutality lawsuits.

However, precedent has shown that citizens are happier with a soda tax proposal that channels revenues into one specific obesity-prevention measure. Philly residents did not directly vote for the soda tax; the city council had that privilege. But council members are certainly accountable to the voters who put them in office.

Who gets hurt?

Just like everywhere else, some council members reasoned that sugar-sweetened drinks are mostly bought by poor people, making the soda tax punitive to them. To spread the burden fairly among the economic classes, the taxation of diet sodas was included, even though they contain no sugar. This is of course a tipoff, if one was needed, that obesity prevention is not the main goal here, and some people are unhappy for that reason.

Aiming to strike a balance, the city council “cut [Kenney’s] proposed rate in half and broadened the base, applying the tax to artificially sweetened as well as sugar-sweetened drinks.” So, only one and a half cents per ounce, with the tax including sugar-free beverages in a rather illogical way. (For zealous students of the topic, Phillymag.com has compiled an exhaustive archive of its minute-by-minute coverage of this subject.)

Many voices

For instance, a city council member suggested funding the pre-kindergartens by raising the property tax, a prospect that might have scared some reluctant citizens into supporting the soda tax. Even among Philadelphians who favored paying for expansion of the pre-kindergartens, there was disagreement over whom to pay, the school system or private providers.

Also, the mayor put forth a new idea, described in this interesting paragraph by Jared Brey and Holly Otterbein:

Kenney also hopes to use soda tax revenue to fund the establishment of 25 community schools over the course of four years. Community schools are neighborhood schools that provide other health and social services to residents who live nearby, with the specific programming at each facility being determined by the needs in the area.

That is an interesting idea, perhaps inspired by the old-time settlement houses founded by Jane Addams, where disoriented and destitute immigrants learned basic practical skills for survival in the New World. Among big American cities, Philadelphia’s obesity rate was and is pretty high.

A study done at Harvard University predicted that the tax “could help 36,000 people avoid obesity every year, and could result in 730 fewer deaths over the next decade.” Would these neighborhood schools take on the mission of teaching boots-on-the-ground obesity prevention?

The writers also went into detail about the amounts of money thrown into this epic battle, and who would stand to benefit most under various scenarios. Weeks later, Otterbein reported:

When Philadelphia City Council debated Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed soda tax earlier this year, the beverage industry outspent supporters of the tax 5-to-1 on lobbying…

Both sides of the fight paid for TV advertisements, phone banks, and organizing. In the end, the soda lobby’s deeper pockets weren’t enough to stop the tax, though: Council passed an historic 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks and diet soda on June 16th.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The No-Bullshit Guide to the Fight Over the Philly Soda Tax,” PhillyMag.com, 06/08/16
Source: “The Beverage Lobby Spent $10.6 Million to Kill the Soda Tax — and Failed,” PhillyMag.com, 08/02/16
Photo credit: sam74100/123RF Stock Photo

Soda Tax — The Philadelphia Story


In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, former mayor Mike Nutter used to keep a bottle of soda on his desk, and another container with 17 teaspoons of sugar in it, to illustrate the point that swallowing the one implied ingesting the other. He even took the props to public meetings, and once asked a journalist, “Who in their right mind would ever put this much sugar into something you’re going to drink?”

Insane or not, across America, many voters are against the whole “sin tax” concept. They resist taxes with a “moral subtext” imposed by the “nanny state.” Even politicians who are pretty much on the same side may disagree. During last year’s presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made headlines by weighing in on the city’s soda tax controversy.

One man reconsiders

Back when Mayor Nutter wanted a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax, Jim Kenney was one of the city council members who opposed it. But after becoming mayor himself, Kenney switched sides, acquiring a new, supportive, and exclusively revenue-based attitude.

Mayor Kenney did not tell voters that drinking less sugar would be good for them and their children, but pointed out that $400 million in the next five years would be a sweet little nest egg to finance preschools, and to renovate public spaces, including parks and recreation centers, which at least have some connection with obesity prevention. Still, the mayor’s endorsement was unabashedly “based on the idea that a soda tax is just an untapped source of revenue,” as journalist Zeeshan Aleem put it.

How much difference does it make? A public official’s genuine attitude is a difficult variable to influence or control. Nothing can make them care about children’s health. But all public officials are supposed to care about spending tax revenues sensibly, and about bringing in more money. If they favor the soda tax for that reason, how much should their motivation matter, as long as the thing gets done?

A false equivalency

People wondered why passing a soda tax was so difficult. After all, Berkeley, California, had managed to do it. But Berkeley is a smallish city on the West Coast, while Philadelphia is big, tough, and sits on a lot of history.

Their situations are not the same, as Jacob Sullum explains: What initially appeared to be an altruistic effort to “save poor people from their own bad habits” was in Philadelphia admittedly only a money grab. He writes:

Unlike Berkeley, where voters approved a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in 2014, Philadelphia will tax low-calorie and zero-calorie beverages at the same rate as regular soda. In fact, the tax of one-and-a-half cents per ounce could perversely encourage consumption of more calories, especially since it does not apply to juice products loaded with naturally occurring sugar.

How did this happen?

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Philadelphia soda tax experiment,” RoyalGazette.com, 08/04/16
Source: “Philadelphia’s Mayor Proposes the Highest Soda Tax in the U.S., But Not to Improve Health,” Mic.com, 04/15/16
Source: “Philadelphia’s New Soda Tax Has Nothing to Do With Obesity,” Reason.com, 06/17/16
Photo credit: Shardayyy via Visualhunt/CC BY

Obesity Villain Suspect — BPA


A while back, Childhood Obesity News looked into phthalates, a group of related chemicals that seem very useful for a number of human purposes, but which might contribute to obesity. The really enormous problem here is that there is no really dependable way to find out. Phthalates are so ubiquitous, there is probably no control group of un-phthalated humans anywhere on earth. Everyone is saturated with these substances, so without a basis for comparison, how can we really know what they are doing to us?

Another problematic substance is Bisphenol A, nicknamed BPA. Studies of BPA provided the first instance where the science bore out the suspicion. The case against it is so convincing, all 28 of the European Union’s member nations have classified it as an endocrine disruptor and “a substance of very high concern.” BeyondPesticide.org says:

The expert panel of scientists agreed on findings of probable causation for EDCs and a number of human diseases, including IQ loss, autism, ADHD, childhood obesity, adult obesity, adult diabetes, cryptorchidism (undescended testes), male infertility, and mortality associated with reduced testosterone.

Like estrogen, BPA is said to make fat cells larger, and is very strongly associated with impaired glucose tolerance, elevated insulin, the metabolic syndrome, and, of course, increased body weight. In one study, researchers found that girls between 9 and 12 years of age with higher BPA levels in their urine had about twice the likelihood of being obese.

A WebMD page says:

One explanation for the results may be that girls who are entering puberty are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, said study author Dr. De-Kun Li, an epidemiologist at Kaiser Foundation Research Institute and the Stanford School of Medicine, in California.

In another 2012 study, around 22% of the kids with the highest BPA levels were obese, compared with 10% of the subjects with lower levels. The Food and Drug administration banned the chemical from items that babies drink from.

The first alerts about BPA appeared for that very reason. Babies and toddlers were spending a lot of time sucking and gnawing on objects made of plastic, which has BPA in it because the chemical is very good at hardening polycarbonate plastics.

Chemory Gunko notes that BPA was developed “as a form of artificial estrogen […] originally created to be a female contraceptive,” and goes on to write:

Over the years, various studies into BPA have shown that it causes changes in genitalia and tissues, changes in maternal behaviors, disruptions in ovarian development, is carcinogenic, and reverses the normal sex differences in brain structure and behavior.

Does this sound like something that babies ought to be ingesting? But even the most careful parents cannot prevent their children (or themselves) from sopping up BPA like a sponge, because it’s found in metal can linings, bottles, food packaging, pipes, sports equipment, digital storage formats like CDs and DVDs, dental sealants, and a whole bunch of other places.

Every day, we all eat a little bit of synthetic estrogen. Gunko writes:

Now throw in the fact that both infertility and obesity are hugely on the rise, and you have to ask yourself if we can really afford to keep on ignoring the potential health effects of consuming these kinds of chemicals in our water and food?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “European Chemicals Agency Classifies BPA as an Endocrine Disruptor,” BeyondPesticides.org, 06/29/17
Source: “Study ties BPA in cans and bottles to childhood obesity but doesn’t prove it’s a cause,” VancouverSun.com, 09/18/12
Source: “More Evidence Links BPA to Childhood Obesity,” WebMD.com, 06/12/13
Source: “Could plastic be making you infertile… or fat?,” GreenOptimistic.com, 05/09/17
Photo credit: oksun70/123RF Stock Photo

More About Berkeley’s Soda Tax


Yesterday, we were discussing how Berkeley instituted a soda tax, and whether it was working. Apparently, good things proceeded to happen. One year ago, journalist Michael McLaughlin wrote:

Consumption of soda, energy drinks and other taxed items fell by 21 percent in some neighborhoods after the tax took effect, according to research published Tuesday in the American Journal of Public Health… Shoppers reported drinking 63 percent more water, according to surveys from a team led by University of California-Berkeley researchers.

McLaughlin went on to say:

At the same time, consumers in Oakland and San Francisco increased their consumption of soda and other sweet beverages by 4 percent, researchers found.

Did they? Or is that statistic attributable to Berkeley tax protesters, willing to travel to save money on their sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and/or to make a point? A study published by PLOS Medicine, says Bruce Y. Lee, “found that one year after the SSB tax was introduced, SSB sales fell in Berkeley by 9.6% and rose in surrounding areas by 6.9%. Meanwhile, sales of water in Berkeley jumped by 15.6%.”

Keeping their word

Berkeley voters had been told that the soda tax revenues would be spent on children’s health programs, especially in areas where economically deprived kids were succumbing to obesity. Some doubted that, and for good reason. Although the soda tax was new, Americans in many states had been told that the profits from a “sin tax” on tobacco, liquor, gambling, etc., would be used for excellent publicly-approved purposes. These rosy promises had not always been honored, which gave rise to skepticism.

But a panel of nine experts was assembled to vet the proposals made by various groups, and Heather Knight was able to report that Berkeley had kept its word regarding the soda tax proceeds. Last fall, Knight wrote:

So far, the soda tax there has raised about $2 million — and sure enough, about $2 million has been spent. Of that, 42.5 percent has gone to the Berkeley Unified School District for cooking, gardening and nutrition programs. An additional 42.5 percent has gone to community groups, including Ecology Center, Healthy Black Families and the YMCA for their health-related programs. The rest has gone to fund the administration of the program.

One of the experts, Xavier Morales, told the journalist of his satisfaction in knowing that noone could point a blaming finger or claim that Berkeley wasn’t doing it right. For instance, an organization called the Ecology Center trains youth to work at farmers’ markets and produce stands in economically distressed parts of town. They also had water bottles printed with information about the harmful effects of SSBs, and distributed them to all the Berkeley freshmen.

When investment counselors advise clients to “play the global fight-against-obesity theme,” it’s a cynical observation and a piece of self-serving advice that feeds into the endless greed of the corporate monster. It is also an admission that two different worlds coexist, one in which dollars matter more than anything, and another in which people want to keep their children and themselves out of the hospital and the morgue.

It may be a grudging admission on the part of Big Soda, but business leaders are being forced to realize that we will not simply continue forever to buy the crap they put in front of us.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Big Soda Spends Millions On ‘Unethical’ San Francisco Area Ads Fighting Drink Taxes,” HuffingtonPost,com 08/24/16
Source: “Berkeley kept its word on soda tax proceeds,” SFChronicle.com, 10/22/16
Photo credit: William Newton (Wnewton1948) via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Berkeley and Its Soda Tax


The financial entity known as Bank of America Merrill Lynch advised its constituents of the many juicy opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors who wish to “play the global fight-against-obesity theme.” Many countries around the world have instituted, or at least talked about, taxes on fat, sugar, and high-calorie foods. However — and this is the message — even without selling sweetened fizzy water any manufacturer who is savvy enough to jump on the health bandwagon can still make a killing.

As we have seen, the Coca-Cola Company led the way in demonstrating adaptability to the health movement. Coke pioneered such workarounds as peddling sugar-laden drinks in smaller containers. The strategy turned out to be even more profitable than what they had been doing before. This, by the way, is a perfect example of what a money-worshipping corporation means, when it talks about creating choice for the consumer.

If results are any clue, people are already offered more choice than is good for them. What is the benefit of having 1,500 kinds of soda if they are all equally damaging to the health?

Shots fired

The idea of a soda tax popped up sporadically, here and there across the country, but never quite caught on, until the West Coast showed leadership. Journalist Lizzie Wade wrote:

In November 2014, Measure D, a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax, was passed by Berkeley, California voters with a 76 percent plurality, becoming the first soda tax referendum to be implemented in the U.S.

As always, opinions differed. A lot of academically-oriented people had a horse in this race, and so did the corporate-minded ones.

Marion Nestle, who literally wrote the book on this issue — titled Soda Politics — would have been better pleased if the social experiment of taxing fizzy drinks could have more defined edges. As it was, soda consumption had been going down anyway, especially in Berkeley, so the effect of the new tax would not be clear cut.

There was also the matter of “leakage,” which is what happens when tax-avoiding consumers simply go to a nearby city (like Oakland or San Francisco) to stock up on soda pop. Bruce Y. Lee pointed out that Berkeley is a smallish, not-major city with “a much smaller lower-income population and potentially fewer people who use cost as a deciding factor of whether to drink soda.” For these and other reasons, proponents worried that whatever data eventually emerged from Berkeley’s experiment would not have much bearing on the possibilities for other cities.

Even the American Beverage Association weighed in with a warning that Berkeley was too small to base any conclusions on, and besides, its “high median income and low baseline consumption rates make it a challenging place to determine the true impact of a beverage tax…” As the old saying goes, even the Devil can quote scripture.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A fat investment opportunity,” Moneyweb.co.za, 04/16/15
Source: “Mexico’s Soda Tax Is Working. The US Should Learn From It,” Wired.com, 07/13/15 Source: “In a devastating blow to the beverage industry, four cities passed soda taxes,” Vox.com, 11/09/16
Source: “In Berkeley, Soda Tax Is Doing What It’s Supposed To Do,” Forbes.com, 04/18/17
Photo credit: Kai Schreiber (Genista) via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

A Johnson, a Jackson, and a Journey


To the dismay of some and the applause of others, prominent men are often willing to talk about their decision to resort to bariatric surgery. One example is EJ Johnson (son of basketball star Magic Johnson), who has been in the cast of the reality TV show, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills. The latest news is that a much slimmer version of him will soon have his own series, EJ and the City.

It was on Rich Kids that Johnson announced his intention to lose some of his 360 pounds.
Speaking of his planned gastric sleeve procedure, Johnson told newsperson Carrie Dilluvio:

A lot of people think it’s the easy way out, but it’s not. It’s a step in the right direction, just a big push. I feel very mature, kind of in the right place for it and I’m very ready to look cute. The surgery is a huge deal for me and it will certainly be a positive change.

It has now been three years since the momentous decision. During the first post-op year, Johnson lost 180 pounds, and was inspired to show up during New York Fashion week in some very avant-garde outfits that featured his slimmer frame. When reporters asked what else he was doing besides surgery, he credited the Pilates physical fitness system for his ability to maintain the original weight loss.

The following year, when another reporter checked in to see how EJ was holding up, he was still doing Pilates four days a week with his own trainer. He described his eating routine as nibbling throughout the day, which makes sense in his particular case, because gastric sleeve patients should not, and cannot without bad consequences, eat regular-size meals.

Johnson told E! News:

Find a workout that’s something you love to do. For me it’s not even working out it’s just having fun. We dance a lot, we sweat and at the end of it I’m like, “Wow! I burned all these calories and I didn’t even know because we were just having a blast.”

For TV personality Randy Jackson, who was an American Idol judge for a dozen years, the magic number was 350 pounds. Coincidentally, that seems to be the red-alert benchmark for a lot of men. They get to up 350, 360, and start taking it seriously. Following a 1999 diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, Jackson modified his diet and his exercise habits, and four years later opted for gastric bypass surgery which led to a loss of more than 100 pounds.

When he started gaining weight back, Jackson spoke to the press of cultural influences:

I grew up in the South, where food and good times were king. For the old Dawg, a holiday party was a chance to have something to eat, drink, and be merry, but the new Randy does not drink or eat at parties.

None of it is easy, he hastens to add, describing the need to resist the snacking urge as “a constant battle.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “EJ Johnson Receives Weight Loss Surgery,” EOnline.com, 09/28/14
Source: “Rich Kids’ EJ Johnson Shows Off 180-Pound Weight Loss in a Sheer Shirt—See the Pic!,” EOnline.com, 9/14/15
Source: “RichKids Star EJ Johnson Reveals How He Maintains His 180-Pound Weight Loss, Shares Fitness & Diet Tips,” EOnline.com, 03/17/16
Source: “Randy Jackson,” Biography.com, 05/30/17
Source: “How Randy Jackson Lost 100 Pounds,” PKBaseline.com, 10/12/16
Photo credit: Michel Curi via Visualhunt/ CC BY

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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