What NYC's Super-Sized Soda Ban Means

September 14, 2012

On Thursday, the New York City Board of Health passed Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to control portion sizes of sugary beverages. How will consumers, beverage makers, and food service industries respond?

Fifty-eight percent of adults living in New York City and almost 40% of children attending public school in grade eight or lower are obese. That's why the city's Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made it a top priority to champion initiatives that he hopes change the eating habits of New Yorkers. The most controversial of these initiatives, a ban on selling soda and sugary beverages over 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, mobile food carts, stadiums, and movie theaters, was passed on Thursday by the NYC Board of Health in an eight to zero vote and takes effect in six months.

While consumers of NYC can purchase as many 16 oz drinks as they like, the Mayor, who also lead the smoking ban 11 years ago in NYC restaurants and bars, describes the ban as a way to alert consumers to portion control. Studies, specifically from Cornell's Food Lab, have shown that the size of plates, portions and packages does have an influence on how much food and beverages we consume.

Opponents of the ban feel the ban is an infringement of the rights and personal freedom of choice. However, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that many of his initiatives, including the Board of Health requiring calorie counts posted on menu boards, were unpopular in the beginning but have since proven effective in controlling consumption.

In 2007, under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg, the NYC Board of Health adopted regulations that prohibited restaurants from using trans fats. And according to studies since then, the trans fat content of consumers' meals has dropped from 3 grams to 2.5 grams.

And although smoking is a different beast than soda, as second hand smoke infringes on the rights of non-smokers in restaurants, since the NYC anti-smoking campaign began in 2002, NYC smoking rates are at an all time low having decreased by 35%.

And some would say that high soda and sugary beverage consumption leads to obesity, which also leads to increased health care costs. The big picture question, that has been brought forth many times over the past few months since the Mayor first announced his idea, is "where is the line between personal freedom and public health matters that affect the nation?"