Could Banning the Big Gulp Lower Crime in Baltimore?

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New York Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed soda law has got a number of people up in arms about the government’s priorities. One big reason: If this law and Governor Cuomo’s bill are both passed, you’ll get fined more in New York for selling a 17-ounce soda than possessing 24 grams of weed. For us in Baltimore, I think it should call attention to another debate: The government’s role in our city’s health.

(Watch Jon Stewart talk about New York’s new legislation)

Obesity is a problem for Baltimore. According to our most recent statistics, the city has a higher overweight and obese prevalence than both the state and national prevalence. 67.7 percent of Baltimore City residents are overweight or obese, while only 32.3 percent are at normal weight, down from 38.4 percent in 2002.  And it’s actually the people with the least money who are suffering the worst from these weight issues.

Basically, fruits and vegetables are expensive and junk food is cheep. Today, one dollar can buy you around 1200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda, but only 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. Many of Baltimore’s residents live in what are called “food deserts,” industrialized areas where healthy, affordable food is difficult to get. Even if you live in a city, if you don’t have a car and haven’t been told where to look, finding fresh foods can be really hard – just think about how many fried chicken and lake trout joints you pass by for every family grocer.

Yummmm, veggies.

Maintaining a healthy diet is about more than having an easier time climbing the stairs or living past your early 60s – it’s actually been proven to reduce violence. A study involving 1000-some prisoners across the UK found that simply adding an Omega-3 supplement to diets caused a 26 percent decrease in violent offenses and nearly a 40 percent drop in seriously criminal behavior like assaulting guards and taking hostages. One possible explanation the researchers offered was that a lack of Omega-3’s in the prisoners’ diets starves the brain, and can diminish people’s capacities for concentration and self-control.

Think about that: improvements in Baltimore’s diet could ripple into crime rates, hospital expenses, police-force allocations and more. So should Baltimore start imposing regulations on our junk-food intake, or does doing so take us one step closer to being run by a nanny state? Personally I’d rather have my diet guided by elected officials than corporate companies who profit from my sugar guzzling.

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