The city Board of Health largely praised Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed size limit on sugary drinks at restaurants and other food service establishments during a hearing Tuesday.
"We know this will not solve the problem by itself," said board member Pamela Brier, who is the president and CEO of Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn. "But I congratulate you for not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good."
The board watched to a PowerPoint presentation about the prevalence of obesity among the city's adults and children. Health official Susan Kansagra cited figures linking some of the weight gain to sugary beverage consumption.
"New Yorkers are gaining about 1.25 pounds a year on average," Kansagra said. "Cutting back on these drinks could potentially reduce that by a third."
The rule would limit sugary beverages to 16-ounce bottles, cans and cups any place the Health Department has inspection authority: fast food establishments, restaurants, deli's, food carts, institutional cafeterias and parks and entertainment concessions.
Board members asked if there was any published data suggesting such a policy would achieve its goals. Kansagra said there wasn't, but there is strong evidence reducing calorie intake can help people lose weight.
Tuesday's hearing was just a formal introduction of the proposal, so the only vote was to approve holding a public hearing next month. Opponents and supporters are expected to turn out in large numbers.
A final vote is expected in September, and the city would phase the rule in over the following nine months.
Outside the hearing, Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, said he was concerned that some board members seemed to express interest in going beyond the current proposal and limiting portions for other drinks and foods.
"What we're really concerned about is the slippery slope," Moesel said. "They say they're only concerned about soda, but if they pass this, we don't know if it'll be 16 fries on a plate or only one hotdog a day. It's a serious concern for a lot of New Yorkers who feel put upon by this administration in a lot of ways."
The city maintains choice continues to be free, since the rule doesn't prohibit consumers from buying as many smaller beverages as they want.
Kansagra said the proposed limit would "force people to make an active decision to consume more."
Moesel said someone who wanted to buy a single large beverage to go, to feed a large family, now couldn't do so.
"It's an infringement on the consumer's rights to purchase a legal product that he wants to at a time of his pleasure," he said. "It's a small infringement, but it's an infringement nonetheless."