Today's 'large' is, well, why we're large

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Ellis Henican Newsday columnist Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and ...

From all the bellyaching over Mike Bloomberg's proposed ban on large servings of sugary drinks, you'd think the New York mayor was threatening something truly onerous this time.

Like canceling Nathan's Famous July Fourth Coney Island Hot-Dog Eating Competition. Or saying breakfast muffins can't be any larger than your head.

Really, why does food have to be so big?

Everyone knows the flabby facts by now. America's in the grip of an advancing epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and life-threatening obesity. And everyone knows the cause: Too much food (and drink) that is bad for you and far too little exercise. Kids are getting fatter and fatter younger and younger. Some adults hardly ever leave the couch. And it isn't like these high-calorie inhalers shoulder the costs alone. All of us help them pay. In higher insurance premiums and inflated hospital bills and rising disability rates and lost years of productivity.

Whether or not it should be, self-inflicted health wrecking is never a purely personal choice.

There's a fair philosophical debate here about the proper role of government: How far should the law go in protecting us from the stuff that people want to sell to us -- and protecting us from ourselves? On what side of that line do 20-ounce sodas fall?

There are no bright and shiny answers here. But this much is clear: We outlaw rancid cheese and soup-can botulism while permitting things that kill far, far more. Why are cigarettes legal and marijuana isn't? Why is booze OK but transfats aren't? Where do Happy Meals sold with kiddie toys fit in? Where's the cost-benefit analysis?

After much initial uproar, most people have come to appreciate no-smoking restaurants and bars. You can even learn to be satisfied with morning muffins closer in size to your fist. And when a "small" movie soda is 16 ounces and a "large" is the size of your bathtub, the whole idea of big has hit a new frontier.

HUNGRY FOR. . .

advertisement | advertise on newsday

1. Burger King Triple Whopper with Cheese, 1,230 calories

2. McDonald's Chocolate Triple Thick Shake (32 oz.), 1,160 calories

3. Nathan's Fish and Chips, 1,537 calories

4. Hardee's Big Country Breakfast Platter with Country Steak, 1,150 calories

5. Dairy Queen Large Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard, 1,320 calories

ASKED AND UNANSWERED: The NIMBY neighbors who packed the Levittown Public Library to rail against an assisted-living facility at the old North Levittown Lanes -- how many of them will end up moving in when they need a little assistance? . . . Who'd believe this plot in a movie: "Twin brothers arrested in twin bank robberies in Centereach"? Yeah, right! . . . Who has a cooler name than the Long Island Lizards? No one football (and lacrosse) legend Jim Brown knows . . . Are we ready for a hurricane? The first responders at the annual Emergency Conference at the Marriott in Uniondale said they're trying to learn from Hurricane Irene.

THE NEWS IN SONG: "No Sugar Tonight," Widespread Panic, tinyurl.com/shug2nite

LONG ISLANDER OF THE WEEK: GRACE VARLEY

Yes, heroes come in little packages. But at 5 years old, how can Grace Varley ever top this? On oversized toy phones last fall, she and her classmates at St. Martin of Tours School learned to call 911 in case of emergency. Then, her brother Myles choked one night on a chicken nugget, and she got busy fast. Making that call in a real emergency, Grace is now the youngest recipient of the gold New York State Senate Liberty Medal. Nice work, kid.

Email ellis@henican.com
Follow on Twitter @henican

You also may be interested in: