If you are a casual or regular movie goer, at least in New York City, you have perhaps experienced the routine "super-sizing" of snacks that goes on there. At a recent movie I requested a "small" soda and was told I could get a discount on an additional food product if I purchased a medium or large. (Why was that, I wondered? Oh, soda is cheap at wholesale, very profitable to sell, and other snacks are even more profitable.)
I found myself at a jammed food island at a Brooklyn cinema (a major chain that can go nameless) with people around me who might have been cast as The Hulk and who were avidly gathering tubs of popcorn and kegs of soda to accompany their movie viewing. I could not help but notice these were people who contribute to the obesity statistics in the US that make us perhaps the fattest country in the world, with all the health issues that attend on overweight.
No, I said, I wanted a small - and was then confronted with a tub of soda that would have filled a Toyota fuel tank. This is "small?" But I didn't actually want a side order of diabetes with my movie, since I happen to know a single can of soda contains at least 10 teaspoons of sugar. (An "average" US consumer was eating about 100 plus pounds of sugar a year a decade ago, up 28% since 1983 - probably without knowing it. And sugar crowds out more nutritious alternatives from anyone's daily diet, according to The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Have you ever seen broccoli offered in a movie theater?)
I bring this topic to the attention of anyone willing to fling himself into the public policy debate here.
The US Food and Drug Administration has just announced a set of rules to require caloric disclosure in restaurant chains and other major eateries. The restaurant industry wanted this federal law to avoid a patchwork of conflicting local rules. The proposed law would exempt movie theaters because, as the movie industry explained in its lobbying effort, movies are "escapist entertainment" where people do not go principally to eat.
It happens that New York City is a locale where movie theaters are required to disclose caloric content, although this seems not to deter the people I saw from stuffing their maws with sugar and butter-laden treats of all sizes. Whether this yummy food contributed to their escapist experience I cannot say, but I am inclined to think that it did. Maybe watching the movie helped the fact of getting unhealthier escape their notice.
But I lose my point here. If caloric disclosure is considered a good idea for public health and is being applied to help guide people to healthier behavior in restaurants, why should the government exclude movie theaters chains, where eating junk is apparently half the fun? It's safe to say that if an industry can sell a 10-cent bucket of sugar water for $4, it may not want the public interest to interfere.
It's more sensible to ask whether disclosure really deters those who want to escape in all ways, and the answer might be mostly no. (The Ace study (www.acestudy.org) suggests that overweight people have in startlingly large proportion been molested or otherwise damaged as children, but that is another story. Other research suggests that the most effective remedy for major obesity is starvation, no "normal" food whatsoever, but with vitamin supplements along the way. That's another story too.)
Warnings on cigarettes have contributed to anti-smoking awareness, so soda-guzzlers and buttered popcorn packers might well benefit from the news that applies. We might also start by educating more children on the simple premise that you are what you eat, and that applies in movie theaters as well.