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Mayor Bloomberg’s Soda Ban Proposal Hits the Wall

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a ban on sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, sports arenas, and movie theaters.

The reactions have been ferocious, and not only from the soda industry, which placed an ad in the Times (see below).

The New York Times also weighed in with an editorial arguing that the mayor has now gone too far and should be sticking to educational strategies.

Alas.  If only educational strategies worked.  But they do not.

We know this from what it took to discourage people from smoking cigarettes.  We also know this from research on eating behavior.  This shows that it doesn’t take much to get people to eat too much.

Just barrage us with advertising, put food within arm’s reach, make food available 24/7, make it cheap, and serve it in enormous portions.

Faced with this kind of food environment, education doesn’t stand a chance.

That’s the point the Mayor’s proposal is trying to address, however clumsily.  After all, a 16-ounce soda is two servings.

Sugary drinks—especially large ones—make sense as a target for a portion size intervention.

  • They have calories but no nutrients (“liquid candy”).
  • The larger the serving size, the more calories they contain.
  • They are widely consumed, often to the extent of hundreds and sometimes thousands of calories a day.
  • Research links them to obesity (people who habitually consume sugary drinks tend to have worse diets and weigh more than those who don’t).
  • People tend to drink the amount that is in the container.

The sugary drink industries have much to answer for their role in obesity promotion.

  • They put billions of dollars into advertising, much of it directed to children and minority groups.
  • They lobby Congress and federal agencies to prevent laws and regulations that might affect sales.
  • They co-opt health organizations to neutralize criticism (hence: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ advice to focus on “education and moderation”)
  • They attack public health professionals who advise “don’t drink your calories.”
  • They attack the science and make it appear confusing (see the ad below, which does not mention studies that show otherwise).
  • They price drinks to favor the largest size servings; an 8-ounce soft drink costs much more per ounce than a 2-liter bottle.

If the Beverage Association really wanted to help Americans eat more healthfully, it could change all of those practices.

The Mayor is committed to improving the health of New Yorkers and is trying to figure out ways to do that.

Beverage companies are interested in one thing and one thing only: the financial health of beverage companies.  And they have convinced many Americans that the financial health of beverage companies trumps public health.

Education?  I’m for it if it’s focused on educating the public how beverage companies really operate.

Addition: The New York City Health Department has been collecting endorsements from public officials and health advocates and is posting them online. I’m in good company.

Marion Nestle is the author of What To Eat and is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Nestle blogs regularly at Food Politics.

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christinatonyDrug RemediesdeetelecareBarry Carol Recent comment authors
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Drug Remedies
Guest

The intention is good but I think personal responsibility is absolutely critical in how a society operates. Taking away this personal responsibility sends the wrong message that obesity is cause by others and the obese. I know some people became obese out of something beyond their control but most people that are obese just eat too much food. If you stop the large soda, are you going to stop them from eating double portion food servings.

Barry Carol
Guest
Barry Carol

Deetelecare – Sorry but education programs are unlikely to work. Most overweight people from high school dropouts to PhD’s already know that if they want to lose weight, they need to eat less and exercise more. They know that fruits and vegetables are healthy while soda, cake, pie, ice cream, chocolate, etc. aren’t. Plenty of doctors here have commented that even when you bring up the need to lose weight in a tactful and non-judgmental manner and explain the health benefits from doing so, patients tend to get defensive. Exercise such as walking on a treadmill or using a stationary… Read more »

deetelecare
Guest

What a bunch of Health Fascists here! Not a single mention of all that can be done to have positive reinforcement of good behaviors and health habits. Just tax it, prohibit it and otherwise Nanny State it–and develop a nice underground economy of prohibited, overtaxed foods. And none of this prevents children especially from developing bad habits. Positive reinforcement can be downright old-fashioned. If insurers and healthcare organizations are concerned about cost, then they should work to bring costs down. What about insurers sending speakers to schools on ‘food ed’ and street teams out into communities to encourage consumption of… Read more »

Peter1
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Peter1

“let’s license, tax and insure every bike rider, just as I, as a car owner, am.” Nanny State? “And when they get injured in accidents (which is near inevitable), or cause accidents, I wind up paying their healthcare costs too.” The ACA wants a health insurance mandate to make sure there are no free riders. Would that be, “nanny state”? “What a bunch of Health Fascists here! Not a single mention of all that can be done to have positive reinforcement of good behaviors and health habits.” Education never worked for smoking and education is easily out gunned by corporate… Read more »

David MD
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David MD

@deetelecare, taxing and regulating the use of sugar added beverages (as we have raised the cost of cigarettes through taxes) is the only pragmatic, workable way to implement reform to reduce obesity, a bill that we all must pay. As I pointed out earlier, the current Bloomberg (really NYC Dept of Health) efforts to limit sugar-added-water drink size was taken because Pepsi, whose HQ is in NY State, threatened to move their HQ outside of the state when taxes on sugar-added beverages was proposed. The “sugar-added water” tax should not be a political problem to pass in any state but… Read more »

deetelecare
Guest

@ DavidMD, I have a very workable cure for high healthcare costs: 100% individual purchase and get employers, the Feds and the states out of it. Individuals can join buying groups, but everyone gets a bill. Plans are national and not state based. AND costs are based on individual history, not state set rates, just like home and car insurance are. You will find that people suddenly become savvier shoppers, have the incentive to improve behaviors, better their health and thus lower their bills. What we have in place now is NOT WORKING and fiddling with it won’t fix it.

deetelecare
Guest

Bloomberg, as he is on most things such as bike lanes, has no concept of the proper functions of government or how best to use a shrinking budget, now that Wall Street is fleeing his Luxury City. That is, fixing things like water mains and supply pipes that waste thousands of gallons a day maybe is more important to public health than the size of soda servings. Filling potholes, snow clearance and road paving is more important than bike lanes. Most of all, crime is increasing in small but measured ways all across the city. But stuff like this, which… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“Filling potholes, snow clearance and road paving is more important than bike lanes.”

Only if you’re a car driver. Each bicycle is one less car to clog the road and damage pavement. Probably not many bike riders are obese as are more large soda drinkers. Cities are there to serve a varied population and trying to keep all the taxpayers wanting services happy is a juggling act.

“People might drink less if it were the latter”

It would certainly increase the price (same as tax?) also given that domestic sugar is tariff protected. The Aussies call Florida sugar cane growers the “Sugar Mafia”.

Barry Carol
Guest
Barry Carol

Mayor Bloomberg is a very smart guy and he’s done a lot of good things for New York City. However, he can be a bit too sanctimonious at times. His sugary drink proposal falls into that category, in my opinion. Anti-tax conservatives are fond of saying that if you tax something you get less of it and if you tax it more you get even less. I think that’s exactly what we want or at least should want when it comes to sugar consumption. Cigarette consumption is way down from what it was 30 to 40 years ago, in large… Read more »

Vinny Mangiacopra
Guest

Partnership for Quality Care Endorses Mayor Bloomberg’s Initiative on Sugary Drinks http://www.pqc-usa.org/news?id=0061 #healthychoices

MD as HELL
Guest
MD as HELL

No one asked government to take on healthcare finance. It is little more than political pork. Get government out of healthcare finance and leave people to their own devices.

David MD
Guest
David MD

People complain about high health care costs yet much of these costs are from obesity. Average caloric intake has increased by 300 calories — 150 of that from sugar added beverages. One in three adult New Yorkers consume at least one sugar-added beverage per day. 20 years ago 10 oz bottles were the norm in vending machines amounting to 26 lbs of sugar a year if one bottle was consumed daily. Today there are 20 oz bottles amounting to 52 lbs of sugar (one per week) if consumed daily. CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH recommends a tax for sugar-added… Read more »

rbaer
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rbaer

“I’d much rather target specific at-risk populations for intervention/education (let’s go borough by borough, medical history, BMI and so forth) and get help to the people that need it directly.” So you want to single out and discriminate against people with high BMI? I get your point, but your suggestion may be as bad as Bloomberg’s … heavy people might just circle the wagons, many of them are doing it right now (e.g. a lot of individuals who get very defensive if not testy when the subject is just raised in a supportive, nonjudgmental manner and environment. One part of… Read more »

john
Editor

I get the idea here and support the sentiment, but pretty sure the Bloomberg proposal is likely to do more harm than good. Opponents will trundle out the “nanny state”/”you’re taking away my cheeseburger” line. The slippery slope argument clearly applies. What’s to stop Mayor B from taking away the toppings on my pizza? Regulating the size of my beer? Mandating that I get enough sleep at night? Limiting my overuse of gadgets? I’d much rather target specific at-risk populations for intervention/education (let’s go borough by borough, medical history, BMI and so forth) and get help to the people that… Read more »

MD as HELL
Guest
MD as HELL

EMTALA either needs to be repealed or it needs to be FUNDED!!

rbaer
Guest
rbaer

I find the Bloomberg proposal silly and likely to be ineffective (although I would be pleased to see it succeed) … but I have to say that every kind of discussion about how to change detrimental dietary and lifestyle habits in the US is a blessing. Everyone working in healthcare and keeping their eyes open realize that we are in the late beginning of a disastrous diabetes epidemic … either medicare will become unsustainable within decades (even if we prevail making HC more efficient, like it is in other industralized nations) … or it will be the libertarian scenario: there… Read more »

tomd39
Guest
tomd39

One small case … that’s all it takes to set precedent. Again … I’m not concerned about the beverage industry. I would rather see incentives to not buy the larger drives than to pass yet another law to make it illegal. It’s like Prohibition, in a way, all over again.