Why restrict soda sales?
On Oct. 21, the city of Seoul announced the restriction of carbonated drink sales at public facilities, such as public offices and subway stations, to prevent imbalanced nutrition intake and obesity from overconsumption of carbonated soft drinks. Sales of carbonated drinks like colas and ciders and the energy drinks that are categorized as carbonated drinks like Hot Six and Red Bull are banned in public facilities.
Some consumers are confused. The local government’s action to ban sales of products permitted by the Food and Drug Administration at limited distribution channels seems inconsistent. People may feel distrustful of the government’s food safety policy.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government explained that carbonated drinks are removed from vending machines at public facilities as they could cause imbalance in nutrition intake, osteoporosis, cavities and fatty liver. However, imbalanced nutrition intake should be improved by individuals’ diets, not by government policy to control supply. The safety of a food product should be determined in the stage of permitting the product, and I think it is not effective to set a guideline to “consume more” or “consume less” of already permitted food products.
All food products contain a toxic component, however small it is, and even good nutrition can be poisonous if you take too much. By ignoring the merits of carbonated soft drinks, such as helping digestion, relieving thirst after physical activities and providing sugar for those with low blood sugar, the policy stirs “food faddism” of spreading anxiety by highlighting negative aspects to the consumers and making a negligible safety issue into a major concern.
In fact, carbonated soft drinks are unfairly banned. What the city proposed as alternatives to carbonated soft drinks, such as colas and ciders whose sugar makes up 10 percent of its ingredients, also contain just as much sugar. Sugar content for fruit juices are 9-13 percent, vitamin drinks 11 percent and aloe drinks 10 percent. If sugar is the problem, other drinks should be banned together.
For successful control of carbonated soft drink consumption, the government should promote campaigns on the ingredients of such drinks and impact on health to the consumers, and help them read the nutrition facts and make a decision on their own to pursue a natural consumption control policy based on market theories, rather than controlling the supply by banning sales at public facilities by addressing health concerns.
by Ha Sang-do, Professor of food science at Chung-Ang University