France is now officially the leader in the fight against the global obesity epidemic. A French law passed in 2015 banning free soda refills and fountain drinks at school cafeterias, hotels, and restaurants has gone into effect. The obesity fighting measure is the first of a kind at a time when many countries are trying to implement taxes on sugary drinks despite vehement opposition from the beverage industry.
Over the last year, I have written articles about obesity, the overconsumption of sugar, and the danger in the pervasiveness of corn syrup. 70% of Americans are overweight and over 30% are obese. Obesity-related health issues cost thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in health costs each year. While the U.S. government is focusing on immigration and partisan bickering, obesity is killing more people on a daily basis than any external threat to our country ever will. Yet, we are doing nothing about… well, the French are.
The French obesity rate is the lowest in Europe, and half that of the United States, 15%. However, the French government realizes the massive economic costs and the loss of human lives that is caused by even a 15% rate of obesity.
The French regulation is the first outright ban-type measure in the global fight against obesity. The law is on par with recommendations made by the World Health Organization, WHO, last October. At that time, the WHO recommended that the global community raise taxes on sugary drinks by 20% as a method to fight obesity.
There is nothing acceptable or entertaining about free soda refills. Men are supposed to have a maximum of 37 grams of sugar a day, while it’s recommended that women have 25 grams of sugar, or less. A 12 oz. Coke has 39 grams of sugar in it. So, if you casually go out to a restaurant and have a Coke and one refill, you’ve just had enough sugar for 2-3 days depending on your sex. 2-3 days of sugar in just one meal’s drink, not to mention all the other sugar that you would consume in a day. That’s not just unhealthy, it’s dangerous. Sugar intake has been directly linked to the rise in diabetes. In 1960 only 1% of the population had diabetes. Today, over 9% of Americans have diabetes. These numbers should alarm everyone. The overconsumption of sugar is killing us.
What I like most about the French ban, is that they are putting words in action. Governments can’t solve issues alone, but they can at least set a foundation for what is reasonable when serious problems arise. Obesity is a problem so serious that it’s a major threat to our healthcare system, our economy, and the millions of people facing illness and death. Sugar taxes alone are not a complete solution, nor are refill bans, but at least they are doing something at a time when obesity should be front and center as national topic of conversation and action.