Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Soda Ban Proposal Gets Health Department Public Hearing Today

The New York City Department of Health will be holding a hearing today to allow comment on a proposal to ban certain kinds of sales of sugar-containing beverages.

A just released study by New York University found that the ban as proposed would cut caloric intake by 63 calories, but the results may be negligible as customers simply buy more of the beverages:
Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban caps a maximum size of 16 ounces for sugary drinks - sold in cups or bottles - at food establishments under the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's jurisdiction. That includes restaurants, fast food chains, delis, street carts and movie theaters. Drinks sold at grocery and convenience stores - including two-liter bottles and 7-11's "Big Gulp" fountain drinks - would be exempt from the ban.

New research led by Dr. Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of population health and health policy at NYU Langone School of Medicine in New York City, analyzed what impact Mayor Bloomberg's proposal would have on a typical consumer's calorie intake.

Elbel and fellow NYU researchers pooled data from two studies that included 1,624 sales receipts listing a non-milkshake beverage (dairy products are excluded from the proposed ban), which were collected from diners at three different fast-food restaurants in New York City, Newark, N.J., Philadelphia and Baltimore from 2008 to 2010. Their research is published in a correspondence to the editor in the July 23 online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Based on the receipts and corresponding survey information collected from the studies, the researchers determined that 62 percent of beverages bought at these restaurants would be over 16 ounces and subject to the mayor's new proposal. Elbel explained to HealthPop in an interview that if 100 percent of fast food consumers switched to a 16-ounce drink from their previous order, the average consumer would take in 63 fewer calories per trip to a fast-food restaurant.

However that's assuming nobody opts to purchase an additional 16-ounce beverage - people can buy as many as they like at these establishments under Bloomberg's proposal - which Elbel conceded may not be likely. His research found that if only 30 percent of consumers reduced their intake to a 16-ounce beverage, the decrease in calories would be negligible.
I've repeatedly stated my opposition to this ban on several grounds, including that it arbitrarily creates a class of banned beverages, even though there are other beverages that contain far more calories per ounce and that other lifestyle choices can have a far greater impact on public health (many a Starbucks beverage will often have more calories than a soda as would many of the iced beverages sold at McDonalds and other chains).

In other words, the class of beverages affected is arbitrary and will not have any appreciable effect on obesity, but it would pave the way for far more intrusive changes imposed by health departments around the country.

Sedentary lifestyles play a significant role in obesity and getting more exercise needs to be considered. Cutting soda portion size isn't a panacea, particularly when soda consumption has been down even as the number of obese people has increased. Something else is at play when soda consumption is down even as the percentage of obese people has increased. That something happens to include a sedentary lifestyle and oversized food portions.

Mayor Bloomberg's proposals are about what he thinks the Department of Health can get away with as far as limiting portion sizes, not based on actual science or greatest impact on public health.

It still comes down to personal choice, and a person will take in far more calories than they need, which is why so many people try and fail on diets to eat sensibly and within their caloric needs as determined by nutritionists or diet experts. The failure to exercise makes things all the worse.

After all, someone who eats a 16 ounce porterhouse or other similar steak will take in far more calories than someone drinking a 16 ounce soda, but there's no limiting the restaurant from serving even bigger portions of steak, even though a serving size is a fraction of that amount.

This is just a misguided effort by a nanny stater to impose a ban that will have a negligible effect on public health.


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