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Some bans help, most make no sense

This past week has been a very productive one for health Nazis fired with a passion of making this world fitter and disease-free. It began with San Francisco’s ban on restaurants giving away free toys with unhealthy meals for children.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 06, 2010 23:44 IST
Sanchita Sharma

This past week has been a very productive one for health Nazis fired with a passion of making this world fitter and disease-free. It began with San Francisco’s ban on restaurants giving away free toys with unhealthy meals for children.

The law, which takes effect from December 1 next year, will put an end to the little cars and ogres this generation has grown up getting along with their burgers, fries and coke combos. Next came the US state of Michigan’s ban on caffeinated energy drinks containing alcohol popular with college students looking to get trashed.

The ban targets 55 brands including the bestselling Four Loko, called “blackout in a can” for its combination of caffeine and 12% alcohol, which is three to four times as much alcohol by volume in normal beer.

A light beer has 3% alcohol by volume. What triggered this ban was three instances of students overdosing so much that they needed hospitalisation.

The last bit of bad news is for smokers. Much to the glee of HR departments across the world, UK’s Breckland Council in Norfolk announced that it will not pay smokers for the cigarette breaks they take. Starting Monday, all smokers working at the council will have to clock out each time they step out for a drag.

I’m all for restrictions on smoking in public places — why should non-smokers die because smokers have a death wish — but docking pay for people stepping out to smoke is very unreasonable.

Sure, several studies have reported that smokers fall ill more often and are less productive than non-smokers, but the same is true of people who overeat, don’t exercise, or have a chronic illness. Going by this argument, everyone who is obese, unfit or not in the pink of health should be given truncated paychecks.

Similarly, a ban on alcohol-laced energy drinks makes sense if calling it an “energy drink” makes it more easily accessible to minors. But if the people imbibing are above the legal drinking age — as they were in the US, they were all over 21 — the ban makes little sense.

Those looking to trip on alcohol will find it, if not in energy drinks then in liqour unadulterated with caffeine. Taking the happiness out of junk meals follows worldwide concern about marketing and promoting junk food to children. Children are the most susceptible to television advertising, with more than one study showing they dictate brand choices in most homes.

Earlier this year, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported — not surprisingly — that making food choices based on television advertising makes your diet very imbalanced. Hidden sugars and fat are so high in advertised foods that, on average, eating just one of the foods advertises provides more than three times the recommended daily servings for sugars and two and a half times for fat for the entire day, the study found.

Children, argue protectionists, cannot make an informed choice and are easily taken in by gimmicks and false claims. Sure, children are gullible but it’s parents who pay for the junk their child eats.

Most children I know are fairly reasonable and understand if you explain why they cannot go to McMunchies once a week for a fries and coke. Parents succumb to advertising because it’s easier to order in a pizza with a toy to entertain the toddler than to whip up a nutritious meal.

Bans are not a solution. As long as the choices we make do not harm people around us, I don’t see why need to take the thrill out of making an occasional bad choice.