Well, it's official. After much debate, public outcry, and a push by the beverage industry to stop it, the controversial proposal to ban large-sized sodas has passed in New York City. Championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the ban prohibits the sale of any sugar-sweetened beverage that's larger than 16 ounces, which limits a serving size to about 200 calories.
The proposed ban is a way to fight obesity in New York City, says Mary Hartley, R.D., nutrition expert for DietsInReview.com.
"Large portions make it too easy for people to over-consume sugar and calories," she says. "Sugary drinks have been linked to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity, and, in adults, type 2 diabetes. On average, obese people spend $1,400 more a year on health care compared to someone of normal weight."
However, many opposed the ban, feeling that it infringes on civil liberties and provides too simple of a solution for the multidimensional nature of obesity. The ban doesn't apply to lower-calorie drinks, such as water or diet soda, or to alcoholic beverages or drinks that are more than half milk or at least 70 percent juice.
Fair or not, Hartley says that soda is being targeted because it's a single substance that is easy to identify, and unlike other unhealthy foods, such as French fries, it has no redeeming nutritional value. According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, approximately half of the population consumes sugar drinks on any given day.
"No one could argue that soda is an essential food, yet so many people indulge," Hartley says. "Fair? I don’t think it’s fair, but then nothing in life is fair. This is simply a convenient place to begin the 'reform.'"
And "reform" is the name of the game. Hartley expects other cities to follow New York City's lead—just as they did in 2008 when New York City became the first city to pass a law mandating the posting of calories on chain restaurant menus. That legislation is now a national law.
"People will adjust," she says. "At first, they might buy two 16-ounce sodas just because they can, but over time, portions bigger than 16 ounces will look odd, and people will get sick of paying for two drinks."
While the Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to make the city healthier were met with stiff opposition, Hartley says people will get used to it, much like they have with other public-health initiatives.
"For instance, the mayor banned smoking in all public places, even in parks, beaches, and pedestrian malls. New York City has lovely beaches, but the sand used to be an ashtray. Now the beaches are spotless and the people are glad," she says. "New York City’s comprehensive tobacco control plan began in 2002. Cigarettes here cost from $11 to $14.50 a pack, but in the past 10 years, smoking rates have decreased by one third, with even greater declines among teenagers."
So will this new soda ban really help reverse the obesity epidemic? It's not a cure-all, but it's a start, Hartley says.
"It might help a little bit, but every little bit helps," she says.
What are you thoughts on the soda ban? Were you for it? Against it? Happy it passed? Want a large soda ban in your town? Let's discuss!
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.