Sigh…. Here we go. County Executive elect Allan Kittleman’s first order of business is…..repealing the ban on selling sugary drinks on county property. And he announces this in the middle of Diabetes Awareness Month. How lovely. What a sad day it is for health advocates near and far. For those of you who follow my blog you are well aware of how much of a health advocate I am. I praised our outgoing County Exec Ken Ulman repeatedly for his efforts to maintain our Healthy Howard status. Howard County has obesity issues just like the rest of the country. Now I don’t think the repeal will suddenly turn us all into roly polies overnight but health experts know that the writing is on the wall.
I think Allan and the people who fought this ban overacted to it from the very beginning. Refusing to sell a product is not the same as saying that you can’t come within 50 yards of our building with a Coke in your hand. As I have stated in a previous blog, I took this “ban” as the government’s way of saying that they will not be an accomplice to your nutritional demise. No one ever stated that you couldn’t bring your own drink, bag of Doritos, share size M&Ms bag with you into the county buildings. So why does everyone have their panties in a bunch? Now where I think Ken U may have gone wrong in his executive order was when he branded this as a “ban”. The word ban sounds so punitive. So I can see why people would find it to be a bit of an overreach to stop selling these drinks on county property. Why couldn’t he sell this as an initiative that is aimed to reduce unhealthy choices? Scale back calorie-laden foods. Going Zen with Ken. Ahhhh… Doesn’t that sound better? (I crack myself up sometimes) Ahem…..back to the blog…And believe it or not I never thought it was a good idea to ban these drinks during special events. Everyone has a cheat day or two, Ken.
Howard County has a problem with sodas and sugary drinks. The latest county health survey shows that 39% of adults who participated reported drinking at least one soda a day. An additional 40% reported drinking at least one sugary drink a day. What are the chances of those drinks coming from a vending machine around the corner from their offices? I don’t know how the machines were set up prior to the big bad ban but perhaps the government should have (and maybe still can) split the percentage of sugary drinks offered. Maybe 30% of the drinks offered in a vending machine will be low or no sugar added. Increase the healthy options as opposed to taking them out altogether and telling consumers do better on your own. Why does this battle have to be all or nothing?
We also must keep in mind that while sugary drinks are the biggest source of calories in a diet they are not the only reason why we’re all so fat these days. Portion sizes, inactivity, prescription drugs, Monsanto and their GMO crap, preservatives with names that no one can pronounce, and steroid-laced meats have also helped to tip the scales (and increase our chances of developing certain forms of cancer). Sodas and sweet teas are easy targets. If health advocates still want to keep Howard County healthy, they really need to work on things like that. I have a Master’s degree in Community Health and one of the things I remember learning in grad school is that it is impossible to change a person’s habits for them. You have to get them to buy into the idea of wanting to achieve optimal health and then show them how to achieve that goal. So work on more healthy opportunities in Howard County. Increase the number of bike lanes. Stop fighting that bike rental company from coming here (I forget their name but people were plenty irritated about the idea), increase the number of sidewalks around these parts. JEEZ!! Why do sidewalks all of sudden run out or are only on one side of the street in Maryland? So annoying.
For now this is going to happen and there is probably not much we can do about it. I sincerely hope that there will be some fresh, innovative health initiatives in Howard County in the next four years to put a smile on my face. I have no choice but to wait and see what else comes from the Allan Kittleman era.