The New York City Health Department’s newly revealed plan to propose a ban on the sale of most sugar-sweetened drinks 16 ounces or larger in restaurants, fast-food venues, delis, movie theaters and sports arenas is already heating up the ongoing controversy over whether government interventions should be used to try to address the nation’s obesity crisis and other health issues — and whether such interventions are effective or merely intrusive.
The sweetened-beverages ban, advocated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, will be proposed as an amendment to the Health Code at a June 12 meeting of the Board of Health. Given that the health board’s members are appointed by the mayor and that the health commissioner is its chairman, the likelihood of approval is considered high.
The ban would apply to beverages that are sweetened with sugar or other caloric sweeteners that contain more than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving, and contain less than 51% milk or milk substitute by volume. That lets out diet sodas and most water products. Fruit juices and alcoholic beverages are exempted, as are all beverages sold in grocery and convenience stores. In QSRs where beverages are self-serve, operators would have to provide cups 16 ounces or smaller, even when customers order diet drinks; however, free refills would be allowed.
Farley told The New York Times that more than half of the city’s adults are obese or overweight, and that he blames sweetened drinks for more than half of the increase in the city’s obesity rates over the past 30 years. He said that more than a third of New Yorkers consume one or more sugary drinks per day, and that obesity rates are higher in neighborhoods where soda consumption is higher.
Obesity is a nationwide problem, and New York City “is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” Mayor Bloomberg told the Times.
Stefan Friedman, a spokesperson for the New York City arm of the national American Beverage Association (ABA), labeled the proposal another example of the city health department’s “unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks.” He asserted that “it’s time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity. These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front.” Friedman’s remarks echo ABA national’s stance that anti-soft drink measures by NYC and other governmental bodies unfairly single out one product from an array of foods and beverages, all of which “contribute equally” to the “very complex issue” of obesity.
Coca-Cola Co. issued a statement saying: “The people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Health Department believes. We are transparent with our consumers. They can see exactly how many calories are in every beverage we serve. We have prominently placed calorie counts on the front of our bottles and cans in New York City, and restaurants already post the calorie content of all their offerings and portion sizes — including soft drinks. New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase. We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate.”