Can our government regulate how much or what we eat? A furor has erupted in New York because Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed banning extra-large sugary drinks in the city. The soft-drink industry has mounted an aggressive campaign to block the proposal. Their approach is based on the slogan "Where Will It End?"
The economic advantage of supersizing was first identified in 1967 when David Wallerstein, a manager of a movie theater in Chicago, was given the task of increasing revenue for popcorn and soda. He introduced larger sizes, charged more and raised profits dramatically, without a significant increase in cost. This approach was so successful that McDonald's hired Wallerstein and the rest is history.
In the 1950s, a burger contained 2.8 ounces of meat and 202 calories. In 2004, that same burger was 4.3 ounces and 310 calories. A Big Mac has 550 calories and 29 grams of fat; a double quarter-pounder with cheese contains 750 calories and 42 grams of fat. A large order of French fries has 500 calories.
Compared to 20 years ago, two average slices of pizza has increased from 500 to 850 calories, and a bagel from 140 to 350 calories. And compare the 50 calories in a cup of coffee 20 years ago to the 330 calories found today in a grande cafe mocha with cream.
And why not buy big? The cost differential is small. For example, a 32-ounce soft drink (400 calories) costs 99 cents; a 44-ounce soft drink (533 calories) costs $1.09; and a 64-ounce soft drink has 776 calories and costs $1.19.
Larger portions are not limited to fast food chains. Even at the finest restaurants, portion sizes are increasing, and to accommodate the food, the standard serving plate is 3 to 4 inches larger in diameter.
The food industry is responding to the obesity epidemic by offering healthier choices. Today salads with fewer calories, healthier desserts and more fruits and vegetables are readily available.
However, the bottom line and profits will always be a driving force. And if offering larger portions leads to more profits, opposition to any regulation will be enormous.
According to The New York Times, moviegoers are being asked to sign petitions against the ban on large, sugary drinks, and a spokesman for a movie chain that makes significant profits from supersized portions states, "we are bewildered by the proposal to choose an ineffective gimmick to address a critical health issue."
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