Unlike Soda Tax, Bloomberg Says Big Soda Size Ban is His Call

Thursday, May 31, 2012

soda ban The city shows just how much sugar is in different sizes of drinks. (Fred Mogul/WNYC)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is hoping the third time will be the charm, in reducing the city’s sugar intake — and the waistlines — of New Yorkers.

Earlier attempts to tax sugary beverages or outlaw them from food stamp redemptions ran up against state and federal authorities and politics. So, on Thursday, he offered a different tack, proposing a new ban within a domain the city actually controls: “food service establishments.”

These are places the city performs inspections on — not just restaurants, fast food joints and delis, but institutional cafeterias, outdoor food carts, and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas. 

Unaffected by the ban would be supermarkets, bodegas and certain convenience stores, such as 7-11s, which the state regulates.

Though there will likely be legal challenges to the Bloomberg proposal, the mayor believes he has the authority to revise the code governing food inspections through the city Health Board, which he appoints, without consulting the City Council.

And Bloomberg said Friday he thought Governor Andrew Cuomo would defend his proposal to ban super-sized sugary drinks in the city.

Speaking on his weekly WOR-AM radio show Friday, Bloomberg said he thought the governor would bat down said any attempts to legislate the ban away.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Bloomberg said. “I assume the governor would veto it.”

Cuomo opposed Bloomberg’s proposed tax on soda.

Not All Sugary Drinks are Created Equal

Because of where they are sold Strawberry Slurpees and 2-liter bottles of soda would be safe. Milkshakes and ‘Frappucino’-like drinks that have more than 51% milk, and fruit drinks that have more than 70% juice would also not be impacted by the ban.

“We’ve tried to tailor this as narrowly as possible to the product we think is most associated with the rise in obesity, and that’s the sugary drink,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “So, we’ve excluded in this drinks that have nutritional value, such as dairy products.”

Ironically, dairy is a leading factor in diminishing the effect of punitive soda taxes, according to Emory University economics professor David Frisvold. His research  suggests that in areas where the cost of sugary drinks increased, or where the drinks were simply pulled out of school vending machines, kids did indeed consume fewer of them — but what the kids drank instead was whole milk, which is even more caloric.

Does Size Really Matter?

Frisvold thinks Bloomberg’s proposal to reduce portion size could fare better than making soda and other beverages more expensive.

“I think this would be more effective, because it’s a ban on portion size, instead of a ban on access,” Frisvold said. “You drink one soda, and you’re going to drink as much soda is in your container, but I think you’re less likely to then get another soda as a form of substitution, so I think it’ll be more effective at reducing the amount of calories you consume.”

Obviously, people could buy two smaller drinks and get the same quantity — and vendors could help them with ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ discount pricing. But Frisvold and others think the city policy could help “reset the default” for most people.

“There are always ways for consumers to drink more sugar-sweetened beverages, and for the true die-hards, this may not change that,” said Professor Brian Elbel, who studies nutrition and population health at NYU. “But if you’re like most consumers walking in, now the healthier choice is going to be the easier choice, and you’re most likely going to get a single beverage with significantly fewer calories.”

Elbel said if the ban passes, researchers will need to track consumer patterns closely, to see how many people are “die-hard” soda drinkers and how many are “average.” He also said that there’s some evidence obesity is already leveling off ― and even declining in some groups ― so it will take careful research to determine whether the change in soda size is having a significant impact or whether the trends are continuing on their own.

Dr. Gilbert Ross, from the American Council of Science and Health — which excepts donations from the food and beverage industry — doubts the oversized soda ban will have any impact.

“Despite the obvious problem with increasing portion sizes, nobody in their right minds has suggested banning portion sizes above a certain amount of food on one’s plate or a certain sized dish,” Ross said. “So this attempt to criminalize Big Gulps is clearly an over-reach — an inappropriate public health measure for which there is very little evidence."

The Health Board is slated to meet in mid-June for public comment on the proposal and would vote on the measure in September. If it passes, there wouldn’t take full effect for an additional nine months.


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Comments [14]

daisy from manhattan

i think we should tax soda heavily and ban soda and junk food from food stamps. we taxpayers end up paying for unhealthy and obese people.

Jun. 02 2012 12:43 AM
Adelaide from Austin, texas

I find this information very usefull for making future decesions.It will be very helpful benefits for us and now I am well aware of its every aspecIts like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read. Ill definitely be back.
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Jun. 01 2012 11:48 AM
M from Brooklyn

Portion control works. This has been extensively studied.

I think this is a smart policy. It's not Orwellian or nanny-state government or any of the other hysterical, exaggerated things people are calling it.

If you truly want more than 16 oz. of soda, just buy 2 drinks!

Jun. 01 2012 11:23 AM
mom_from_Brooklyn from brooklyn

I think the Mayor is just trying to help New Yorkers live healthier. From less driving to increased limitations on where we can smoke it is all in our best interest. The ads are all over Subways showing how soda and sugary drinks turn into fat, but that is just is not enough. Diabetes, heart disease & other illnesses that can be traced to being overweight is going to send this country to the poor house. The rates of illness are staggering and the Gov't (taxpayers) does and will pay a big price for all this. Who doesn't notice that there are over 600 calories in a Starbucks 'large' Mocha? His measures are for public health and we need them.

Jun. 01 2012 11:20 AM
John From NYC from Manhattan

Since Bloomberg's reason is to prevent people from getting fat and ending up a ward of the city in Bellvue with Diabetes or other diseases that the City has to fork out money for - Maybe Bloomberg should enact a tax based on how overweight you are - This would hasten many of Bloombergs goals - Fat poor people would leave the city as the tax empties out Public Housing by raising their living expenses to a Market Rates, Poor people would be taxed at an inequitable rate - That seems to be the historic norm, Skinny people would make up a larger proportion of New Yorker's - It would be more like the Mayors Social Circle and he would feel he'd truly changed NYC - Even more so tham Guiliani. It would be one Tax on all excess.

Jun. 01 2012 11:09 AM
Duck Duck Gray Duck from Minneapolis

Thank you. Now can we move on to the more important issue of banning Face Eating?

Jun. 01 2012 10:20 AM
Robert Diiorio from NYC

Who the hell does he think he is? It's not his place to tell people what to put into their body, any more than citizens telling him what he can put into his body. It's not even a question of right or wrong, it's beyond that and it has to do with the basic principles of being ones own person and to make ones own decisions.

Jun. 01 2012 09:08 AM
Shalomu Vracha from San Francisco Slurpy

As a last resort, he could buy every Slurpy poured in New York, and distribute them illegal immigrants.

Jun. 01 2012 08:55 AM
cwebba1 from astoria

I wish that WNYC had gotten a better shot of the cups with sugar. It would be a useful visual to discus the subject, worthy of repost. The blurry shot that you posted needs color correction as well.

Jun. 01 2012 07:13 AM
Angela Muriel from Manhattan

Instead of banning or criminalizing behavior, there could be more information as to why these high sugar & over processed products are so cheap to begin with. Our government subsidizes farms for producing foods on a grand scale such as corn, soy, etc. We should stop this or at the least start subsidizing
growers of other vegetables to bring down the price of healthier choices.

Jun. 01 2012 06:55 AM
kevin from upper LS

since when have people ever been motivated by negative reenforcement. if you don't get healthy food in the public schools,which is a corrupt corp junk food welfare for big co's program, to begin with;then this is all fatuous BS. it does no good, to say stay away from something bad,it helps when we move towards, and provide, something healthy. the supersize ban is just mindless nonsense..

Jun. 01 2012 01:23 AM
Jackie from New York City

"Dr. Gilbert Ross, from the American Council of Science and Health — which excepts donations from the food and beverage industry — doubts the oversized soda ban will have any impact."

Excepts? Or expects? Or accepts?

“So this attempt to criminalize Big Gulps is clearly an over-reach — an inappropriate public health measure for which there is very little evidence."

No, there'd be a fine, it is wouldn't be criminal. Ironic that Dr. Ross would use the word "criminal," given his conviction for participation in a scheme that ultimately defrauded New York's Medicaid program of approximately $8 million.

May. 31 2012 10:58 PM

If he wants to ban anything, ban smoking, I'm sorry but soda doesnt effect anyone but the one drinking it, unlike smoking cigarrets, ban that at least in public and near kids, arrest pregnant women who I see smoking outside a clinic, which Im guessing they were there for a check up, I cannot go outside without some idiot forcing me to breath in that cancer stick, people tend to die from second hand smoke, which means majority of none smokers but breathing in that smoke, what about weed, I go out and people are selling those dame bongs, again no good air, a high person shouldnt drive or walk by themselves but do you see people trying to ban something that we are forced to breath in, that can kill others besides the one doing the smoking.

May. 31 2012 10:36 PM

I wonder if the mayor concidered that most fast food restaurants give unlimited refills of soda. And if you are not at a restaurant that gives refills you can buy 2 16oz cups.

May. 31 2012 09:27 PM

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