By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
A recent study by Columbia University researchers may present a problem for civil libertarians basking in the defeat of Mayor Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban. As many of us know, the NYC mayor proposed and then passed a health rule prohibiting restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The New York State appellate division upheld Judge Milton Tingling’s ruling that Bloomberg “eviscerated” the separation of powers doctrine by making an end run around the City Council and presenting the measure to the NYC Board of Health. The city plans to appeal but it is now armed with an important study concerning the effects of sugar on children.
The new study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, links sugar consumption with aggressive, and violent behavior in children as young as 5 years old. Researchers followed 3000 mother-child pairs from 20 large U.S. cities. from birth to age 5 years. The mother’s were asked to self-report their child’s consumption of soda and then to answer a series of behavioral questions. The results were stunning. Children who consumed as little as four servings of sugary soft drinks per day were twice as likely to engage in “aggressive violent behaviors – such as destroying other people’s belongings, starting physical fights and verbally attacking other children. ” In addition, the sugar dosed kids had trouble concentrating and became more socially withdrawn than kids who didn’t imbibe. But even one serving of soda triggered behavioral problems in the young children:
“There was a dose response,” said Shakira Suglia, study author and associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. “With every increase in soda consumption, we saw an increase in behavior problems. It was significant for kids who consumed as few as one serving of soda per day.”
The researchers pointed out that Americans buy more soda per capita than any other people in the world. They also said that other contributing factors like parenting styles, exposure to violent programming, hard candy consumption, and socio-economic factors were controlled yet the same correlation persisted raising the specter of “Sugar Rage” in young children. The study does have drawbacks since researchers relied on parents to self-report and couldn’t say precisely the size of the dose or the type of soda offered, but the deleterious effects of sugar and sugar substitutes are well-known in the medical community especially when it comes to kid consumers.
“Despite the multitude of studies exposing the negative effects of soda consumption, Americans continue to buy and drink more soda than those in any other country,” said Marlo Mittler, registered dietician from Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, and not affiliated with the study. “In an effort to reduce the effects on a child’s possible negative behavior, it is suggested to eliminate or avoid any soda consumption.”
If the studies are true and sugar represents a clear hazard to children’s health and behavior should it be treated like other child unfriendly substances like alcohol and tobacco? State supreme courts around the nation and the United States Supreme Court (Lorillard v. Reilly, 533 U.S. 525 (2001)) have universally held that these drugs may be excluded from purchases by those under age 18 for health and safety reasons. In Lorillard, the tobacco company didn’t even contest that the state had an important interest in preserving the health of minors by restricting sales of tobacco products.
What then of the Bloomberg ban on not the sugar but the method of delivery of the sugar? Shouldn’t the state have the right to restrict the amount of consumption of a known hazardous substance to children? Isn’t this state prerogative especially necessary when the harm isn’t just limited to the youthful consumer but to children in his immediate vicinity who might be harmed? And if not, under what basis can we restrict the sale of tobacco and alcohol or any other harmful substance to minors? Does our freedom to consume hold sway over even children’s health and well-being of those they may come into contact with?
Interesting questions that the courts in New York will have to answer if the researchers at Columbia have stumbled onto something that will make the Tobacco Wars against Big Tobacco look like a pillow fight.
Read the study here.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger