Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New York State Health Commissioner Calorically Confused?

I figure most of my blog readers already know about New York State's fat-tax proposal whereby an 18% premium will be attached to sugary drinks. The hope of course is that if soda costs more, people will therefore buy and drink less, and by drinking less sugary beverages those folks will lose weight (or stop gaining).

It's a very simple premise really - drink fewer calories, gain less (or even lose some) weight and in NYC where calories are posted on menus, people really ought to "get it".

You know who absolutely ought to "get it"? New York State's Health Commissioner - the board certified in internal medicine physician Dr. Richard Daines who you'd guess ought to be fairly well versed in all things caloric.

Well if the video below really represents his views, I'm not so sure.

You see in the video below Dr. Daines boils down the point of the tax to be shifting the consumption of cola "back" to the consumption of milk as in the 70s when obesity was less of a concern the average New Yorker was drinking more milk and less soda.

The problem with that notion is that the past 30 years of weight gain cannot be skimmed down to a single variable. It's not soda that's caused the gain, it's the calories in it as well as the various other foods and portions that have grown in size, quantity and calories since the 70s.

Watch the video and you'll hear how in fact since the 70s the average New Yorker is drinking at least 2 more glasses of liquid calories a week just between milk and soda. Of course we also know that since 1970 juice consumption has gone up as well so likely the average New Yorker is consuming anywhere from 200-500 more calories weekly purely from liquid sources. Splitting the difference and extrapolating for a year that's 5.2lbs more calories per year just from non-satiating liquids.

Given that 2% and higher fat milks have drop per drop more calories than soda, and juice the same, if all a New Yorker did following the introduction of the fat-tax was swap some sodas for milks or juice liquid calories won't change (and neither will weight).

Now I can't imagine Dr. Daines doesn't "get it", I think he probably figured it'd be best to try to dumb things down.

Problem is dumbing things down when it comes to calories is just plain dumb. If New Yorkers who watch Dr. Daines think that soda has magically bad calories and milk and juice magically good ones they're missing the really important take home point - liquid calories aren't satiating and we drink too many of them.

The message really has to be, don't drink your calories. Too bad Dr. Daines blew the opportunity to hammer that home.

[Hat tip to one of my favourite nutritional economists Parke Wilde]