Yesterday history was made. The New York City Board of Health passed Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of sugar sweetened drinks larger than 16 oz (close to half liter for my metric followers). From Mid March next year New York restaurants, sports venues, food trucks, movie theatres and cafes will all have to down size their drinks.
No other city in the US, or anywhere I imagine, has even taken such a strong regulatory step in an attempt to curb obesity. It’s a bold move when according to a New York Times poll 60% of New Yorkers disagree with the ban.
The soda industry, of course, is against the move. Their well financed campaign is not only fighting the decision in court but they are also rallying for public support saying that this move restricts consumers’ freedom to choose.
I’m a New Zealander. As a generalisation us Kiwis don’t like being told what to do. We prefer our government to keep their nose out of our business. I’m also generally a free market kind of gal and as you know take a no rules holistic approach to healthy eating. So you would think that this ban wouldn’t be my cup of tea. But I’ll be honest here, I think the soda ban is a great idea.
It’s not like New Yorkers who want to gulp down gallons of sugary drinks are being denied their right to do that. They’ll just have to buy two or three (or four?!) 16 oz cups instead of one bucket of the stuff. What the ban does do, however, is it helps us pause and think about our choices. It’s that alarm sticker on the window beside the front door that makes an intruder think twice about targeting our house or those gross photos of lung disease on the cigarette packet to remind smoker’s of the dangers of tobacco. (Furthermore, milkshakes, juices, diet sodas and alcoholic drinks are excluded from the ban so we even have alternative options if we’re going for that bloated feeling).
Obesity is a huge and widespread problem in the US where over a third of adults and 17% of children and teens are obese (not just overweight, but obese). Why is that a concern of the government? Well, for one, it is estimated that medical costs associated with obesity in 2008 totalled $147 billion. Rising health insurance costs anyone? (Statistics from CDC). Another issue is that over a third of the US male population between 17 and 24 are now too fat for military service. How does that affect our national security? (Statistic from here)
Some opponents of the ban are not only waving the freedom of choice banner but also believe that singling out sugary drinks is a waste of time. What about candy, donuts and the whole gamut of other processed, fatty, sugary stuff that is available to consumers? First of all, this is the same Mayor who banned trans fats from New York restaurants in 2008. The guy has it out for junk food in general, not just sugary drinks. Secondly, part of the debate has been that sugary drinks are worse for us than other types of sugar. (It’s purported that since sugary drinks don’t fill us up they are even worse for us than say, a donut with the same amount of sugar in it that at least satisfies for a short period of time. However, the data is a little sketchy. This is still under debate). Either way we know sugar is bad for us and I think the ban has highlighted and brought focus to this. It’s saying “enough is enough”.
I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw a 64 oz drink. It came as part of a movie package deal. Being new to the country and used to metric measures we had no idea what was coming. It required two adult hands to hold it. My husband and I shared some of it. We couldn’t finish it. It’s equivalent to four of the new “large” 16 oz size drinks will give you 186 grams of sugar – about a cup.
So New Yorkers may feel their liberty is under attack and the soda giants may feel unfairly targeted but I think it’s a good thing these ridiculously sized drinks will go.