Thursday, September 13, 2012

NYC Department of Health Approves Super-Sized Soda Ban

In what should be a surprise to absolutely no one, the New York City Department of Health rubber stamped Mayor Mike Bloomberg's proposal to ban sugared beverages that exceed 16 ounces. The vote was 8-0 with one absention.
The regulation passed Thursday puts a 16-ounce size limit on cups and bottles of non-diet soda, sweetened teas and other calorie-packed beverages.

The ban will apply in fast-food joints, movie houses and Broadway theaters, workplace cafeterias and most other places selling prepared food.

It doesn't cover supermarkets or most convenience stores.

City health officials say the ban is necessary to combat a deadly obesity epidemic.
The ban would take effect in March 2013. Health experts claim that the limit would help fight the obesity epidemic, and that soda is nothing but empty calories.

Never mind that this becomes an indirect tax on those who purchase the oversized beverages rather than a multitude of smaller beverages (sharing among multiple cheaper because it's cheaper per ounce to do so).

Setting aside the nanny-state aspects of the ban, which are numerous, there are practical problems with the ban.

The ban ignores that there are other more dangerous food products that are just as likely, if not more so, to cause adverse health effects.

No one is calling for bans on sales of steaks larger than 8 ounces, even though beef products can contain more fat and calories that can pack on the pounds and lead to obesity.

Here, the focus appears to be on the "empty" calories, and nothing more.

There are carve-out exemptions for milk-based beverages, such as iced coffees, and juices, and that too ignores that those beverages contain far more calories than the now-banned products.
The restrictions would not affect fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; no-calorie diet sodas would not be affected, but establishments with self-service drink fountains, like many fast-food restaurants, would not be allowed to stock cups larger than 16 ounces.

Only establishments that receive inspection grades from the health department would have to obey the rules, a group that includes movie theaters and stadium concession stands. Convenience stores, including 7-Eleven and its king-size “Big Gulp” drinks, would be exempt, along with vending machines and some newsstands.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said the plan does not limit consumers’ choices, since customers can still purchase as many 16-ounce drinks as they would like. The soft-drink industry, which has spent more $1 million on a public-relations campaign opposing the plan, argues that the policy restricts consumers’ freedom to buy beverages as they see fit.

Six in 10 residents said they thought the plan was a bad idea in a recent poll by The New York Times. But the measure easily earned the approval of the health board, whose members were appointed by the mayor. The board voted eight to zero, with one abstention, to approve the measure just after 11 a.m. Thursday.

Mr. Bloomberg has made curbing obesity a top goal for his administration, citing higher rates of diabetes and fatalities among the city’s more overweight neighborhoods. More than half of adult New Yorkers are obese or overweight, according to the city’s health department.
Bloomberg seems to have targeted those products that he thought he could ban without a stiffer fight - rather than following the science.

This wouldn't appear to ban refills, which is yet another way to circumvent the ban on portion size.

And, as I've noted before, the soda makers could rebut the empty calories claims by adding vitamins and minerals to the soda products. It also ignores that obesity isn't the product of drinking more soda - if anything consumption of soda has declined, but obesity rates have continued to increase.

Obesity is a product of a sedentary lifestyle and consumption choices. Bloomberg seems to think that hiking the price of soda (which is what the ban on super-sized beverages would have) will result in reduced consumption and lower obesity levels. I expect that people will simply choose other alternatives and continue consumption of all calories at existing levels. Substitution will occur - not reduction.

If the New York City ban takes effect as scheduled, expect other cities to follow suit.

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