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Who banned my soda pop? Add to ...

"If kids want a pop, they'll cross the street, go to a plaza and buy a pop," says Rob Ford, a city councillor who is running a populist campaign for mayor.



Banning pop in a park is the most ludicrous idea I've ever heard. Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford


Others asked whether limiting choice is the best way to go. There's a temptation to impose well-meaning but ultimately hypocritical restrictions on children when a community-minded approach might work better, says David Jenkins, Canada Research Chair in Nutrition at the University of Toronto.

"We take them and beat them around the gymnasium and tell them that exercise is good for them. Meanwhile, we sit back at home on the couch with a six-pack and watch other people doing physical activity on TV.

"Kids then come home and see us doing that, and realize that school is an awful place. I think that's really part of the danger," he says.

Still, you won't get public-health advocates or, really, very many others in positions of influence arguing against Toronto's approach. "I don't know any sociologist who would take a libertarian position on a health-promotion issue like this," Lorne Tepperman, a U of T sociology professor, wrote in an e-mail. Dr. Tepperman is the author of the forthcoming The Sense of Sociability, which examines, among other things, whether individuals need government to save them from themselves. "Who would oppose milk and fruit juice, given the growing concerns about obesity among young (and not so young) people?"

Medical thinking has been shifting away from the individual, and toward the environment. Public-health advocates argue that individuals - especially children - can't be expected to make rational food choices when they're living in a media environment that is saturated with advertising and are subjected to intensive targeted marketing. That, they say, is something that can be fixed only through government interference.

"Taking a step in the right direction, like Toronto is proposing to do, is a great idea," says David Lau, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and the president of the Canadian Obesity Network. "We have to bear in mind that, in the obesity epidemic, we shouldn't blame the individuals; we should blame the environment that's causing it."

Indeed, on the same week that Toronto's city council sat down to consider the bureaucratic details of its drink-vending plan, delegates from the world's nations gathered in Geneva for a meeting of the World Health Organization's top decision-making body. On the agenda: a global plan to fight obesity by restricting the marketing of sugary drinks and fatty, salty foods to children.

"It took 50 years to put in place regulations with tobacco," says Enrique Jacoby, an adviser on healthy eating and healthy living with the Pan-American Health Organization, a branch of the WHO. "It shouldn't take another 50 years to put in place regulations against obesity."

If approved, the strategy would attempt to lay down global guidelines for marketing junk food to children, though the extent to which the regulations would be binding - as opposed to recommendations - has yet to be determined.

But kids may not need to be restricted so stringently. Indeed, the modern youth may already have a good grasp of the nutrition issues. Down at Toronto's Harbourfront Community Centre, teenagers gathered to play basketball gave an unequivocal take.

"Honestly, I think it's a good thing," 18-year-old Sean Duffy says. "How many cups of sugar in each one? It's nuts. Take it off the market."

"But fruit juice is just as bad for sugar," one of his companions says.

The youngest one, a 13-year-old, chimes in, "But the sodium levels aren't as bad ..."

Toronto's proposal might not stop at city arenas and community centres. Adrian Heaps, a suburban councillor who brought a bag of sugar as a prop, moved to expand healthy vending rules to all city-owned facilities (and asked for a report on extending those guidelines to all "food" dispensed at those buildings). The city said no.

For Dr. Mintz, the line should be drawn where it comes to people doing harm to each other - not themselves. "I have no problem banning the use of cellphones in cars. The reason isn't the individual. It's the fact that the individual could put risks on other people."

William Watson, a McGill University economics professor, was more puckish: "To be effective, you'd probably have to ban it totally, and enforce the ban, and police it so you don't get underground movements developing in terms of smuggling these things, or people making them in the basement by buying sugar and adding them to diet drinks."

Moonshine soda pop. You can bet there'd be regulations on that.

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