Howard's sugary drinks ban needs boundaries [Editorial]

The idea behind County Executive Ken Ulman's ban on sugary drinks was a bold and noble one. It drew praise from not only the medical community but educators and parents, too. Ending the sale of sodas and other fattening food in county buildings showed that Ulman was making healthy eating a priority.

But this week's Independence Day celebration at Columbia's lakefront has us wondering how far this ban should be allowed to go.

Vendors have complained that the county's rules force at least 50 percent of their sales to be low-calorie alternatives, forcing them to either limit portion sizes or completely eliminate the sale of regular sodas and other drinks of a certain calorie intake. Aside from your Coke or Pepsi, that also means no sports drinks such as Gatorade or things like lemonade or sweetened iced tea. And while the idea of offering healthy alternatives is a good one, is a once-a-year community event really the place to be so strident?

We'd be the first to acknowledge that Ulman's goals are based on solid figures considering the number of people who are obese and overweight in our society. In 2012, as our cover story points out, 56 percent of Howard County residents were above a healthy weight. That's not only a health issue but an economic one as well, as the impact reflects in our rising health care costs.

And while we're with the county executive in wanting to encourage healthier options for people, we also have faith that people need to be responsible for their own life decisions. Ulman's critics have often charged him with creating a "nanny state" for restrictions such as this one. We've never gone that far in criticizing him because it's clear to us that his intentions have always been, as far as we can see, well intentioned. We are supportive of the cause.

Still, some common sense needs to be applied. After all, moderation is a key to a healthy lifestyle as well.

Instead, we'd wish there would be a more positive way to get the message across. Instead of making sodas and fatty food the forbidden fruit, why not do an education plan at the fireworks and other community events? It could be just as effective and more lasting.

Vendors also make a good point in that the ban will only encourage people to bring their own drinks and food, hurting vendors and creating a less inviting atmosphere.

Banning the sale of fatty foods and sugary drinks on county property should be within the county's purview. Extending that ban to community events, even as well intentioned as the goal might be, seems like an over-reach, and in conflict with the independence we celebrate on the Fourth of July.

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