NYC Soda Ban Denied: Now What?
Soda: 1. Mayor Michael Bloomberg: 0.
The New York City mayor's newest obesity-fighting proposal to limit the sales of sugary drinks to 16 ounces or less at restaurants, theaters, and food carts was dismissed by a state supreme court judge yesterday—just one day before the health code would have taken full effect. Considering Bloomberg's success in banning trans fats and smoking in public places, this decision came as a total surprise to most, including the businesses that had already edited their menus and ordered smaller serving cups. Perhaps the most shocked was Bloomberg himself, as well as his administration.
“Without a portion cap on sugary drinks, it will be harder to tackle an obesity epidemic that kills New Yorkers and causes misery for many thousands more who suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and other debilitating illnesses,” says Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H., the NYC Health Commissioner. “We are confident that we will win on appeal."
One reason for the ruling is that the new health code wouldn't apply to all food establishments in the city, such as 7-Eleven stores, which are not state-regulated. So it could be considered unconstitutional to let some businesses sell 32-ounce drinks while fining others $200 for doing the same thing. Bloomberg also seemed to be targeting sodas in particular, as milkshakes would have been exempt from the cap since they contains more than 50 percent milk.
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Outside the courtroom, others argued—no one louder than the soda industry—that Nanny Bloomberg (the mayor's new nickname) was trying to take away their fundamental right to choose. But maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
“I understand people's concerns about infringing on your personal choice and rights, but the problem is that we have a ton of scientific data that says we will quite literally eat whatever is in front of us,” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center. “Bloomberg's proposal wasn't about robbing people of their personal choice, but rather about how easy and accessible unhealthy foods are, which is really the issue that has caused the tremendous spike in obesity rates."
Take the original Coca-Cola bottle, for example: It was only 6.5 ounces in the 1920s. Or McDonald's, who has increased its drink size by 457 percent—from 7 to 32 fluid ounces—since 1955. Then consider that Americans' daily caloric intake has increased by 200 to 300 calories in the last 30 years. "It's no coincidence that waistlines have grown at the same time and rate as portion sizes,” Ochner says. “This ban was really an attempt to back away from the toxic food environment.”
From “super-sized” to “human-sized” is how Bloomberg's team spun the campaign. While the food around us has changed, biologically and genetically we are the same as the days when we faced starvation and saber-toothed tigers. “We're still built to seek out calories and store them so we can survive periods of famine," Ochner explains. So we have a tendency to eat whatever is in our hands regardless of hunger or satiety, when, he says, “the fact is, if you drink an eight-ounce soda, you're really not going to miss the other eight ounces.”
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Regardless of any soda bans or lack thereof, the important thing is to eat and drink whatever you want, just choose smaller (and when possible healthier) portions. You know better than to take the bag of chips or carton of ice cream to the couch with you—same rule applies to your beverages. According to NYC Department of Health, had the ban gone through, New Yorkers could have collectively prevented gaining 2,300,000 pounds in one year. See how many pounds you'd lose if you cut back from 20 to 16 ounces, or better yet, to 8 ounces on all sugary drinks (includes coffee, too!).