New York City to Add Soft Drinks to List of Health Hazards

Last week, New York City showed the nation once again what it means to be on the cutting edge of public health policy. The city announced a bold plan to limit the size of sugary beverages sold at restaurants and other food establishments. Predictably, much of the media went crazy, and numerous outlets have already proclaimed that this time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has just gone too far. Banning trans fats was fine, but don’t take away my right to guzzle a gallon of Coke is the lazy reaction of some pundits.

But let’s take a more rational look at what New York is proposing. From both a policy-making and political strategy standpoint, it makes perfect sense. No one is banning anything or restricting anyone’s freedoms. The city is simply placing a reasonable limit on how much soda (or other sugary beverage) can be served in a single container. According to Coca-Cola, in the 1950′s, the “traditional” bottle size was 6.5 ounces. New York’s proposed 16-ounce limit is roughly 2.5 times higher. Seems more than reasonable.

And the policy rationale is solid. New York City health inspectors are already charged with ensuring that food establishments comply with various health and safety measures. Given what we know about the adverse health consequences of consuming too much soda, beverage companies (along with restaurants) are essentially contaminating the food supply in a similar way that meat companies (sometimes) contaminate your hamburger with E. coli or Salmonella. Or when food workers forget to wash their hands. Or any other number of violations of the health and safety code. So if New York City can inspect food establishments to help prevent its residents from getting sick from unsanitary conditions, it follows the city should also be able to limit other health hazards such as soda. I don’t hear any New Yorkers up in arms over their right to eat bacteria-laced foods.

Moreover, government places reasonable limits on all sorts of behaviors and business practices, every single day. Such as speed limits, which are meant to protect you as well as others. Society has also decided (instead of prohibition) to place various rules on how alcohol is produced, sold, and marketed. For example, many states place upper limits on how much alcohol can be in beer–a regulation designed to protect the health and safety of the public. The sky has not fallen, beer sales are doing well, and beer drinkers are happy (mostly).

Finally, the soda proposal is a brilliant political move because it only requires the approval of the city’s board of health, unlike a tax, which failed in the state legislature thanks to heavy lobbying. Of course, industry is already threatening to go to its friends in Albany to try and stop this proposal, but it’s unlikely Governor Andrew Cuomo would support a preemptive bill. Industry may also try to sue, as it did over menu labeling (they lost) but in the meantime, the corporate PR machine is full swing. Full-page ads with images of Mayor Bloomberg dressed as a woman charging “nanny state” indicate that the best response industry can muster is (sexist) name-calling. At least for the moment.

Stay tuned, as things are likely to get ugly. While most of the news has focused on soft drink makers, the restaurant industry will also come out swinging, creating a powerful lobbying and PR combination. (McDonald’s has already expressed its displeasure.) But if it succeeds, and other cities follow New York’s lead, this idea could spark an entire new approach to regulating an unhealthy food supply.

 

 

 

 

9 Responses to “New York City to Add Soft Drinks to List of Health Hazards”

  1. gd says:

    “Given what we know about the adverse health consequences of consuming too much soda, beverage companies (along with restaurants) are essentially contaminating the food supply in a similar way that meat companies (sometimes) contaminate your hamburger with E. coli or Salmonella.”

    You can’t be serious.

    • William Haar says:

      What part of “food safety” do you not understand? Just because a (chronic) disease takes longer to develop doesn’t mean it’s not as important as a bacterial disease. Michelle is right; this is a legitimate food safety issue.

  2. conrack says:

    You’re not exactly a brain surgeon, are you. You mom probably cuts your pizza in quarters so you only eat 4 pieces cause you can’t eat 8 pieces. You have fallen into the trap of thinking that what appears reasonable is therefore logical, but this one is not.

    Attempting to limit people’s overall intake QUANTITY is the LEAST enforceable regulation of all and this regulation does nothing to control that. The rules don’t prevent a person from buying 2 or more 32 ounce sodas, or greater numbers of even smaller sodas, it doesn’t limit the NUMBER or total amount of any other sizes of sodas a person can buy in a day, and it doesn’t reduce the amount of sugar content in the soda either, it just eliminates a single serving SIZE, that’s it!!

    At best this rule will result in only a minor and insignificant decrease in retail soda sales with NO decrease in overall per capita soda consumption or production volume, and NO decrease in associated disease rates or improvement in public health. The unintended consequence will be increased individual sales volume & profits as people are now forced by law to buy multiple numbers of sodas to get the same total QUANTITY they desire.

    Maybe you should ask an adult to check your logic before you post an article.

    • William Haar says:

      If this were really unenforceable and could only result in increased individual sales volume and profits, don’t you think Big Soda would be supporting it instead of freaking out?

  3. Danielle says:

    I am really surprised by the negative comments to this post as well as to the idea to limit beverage sizes. Those who are angry truly must not understand the health consequences of sugar sweetened beverages. The scientific literature is extensive in the area. Obesity and diabetes costs the USA billions, which is money that could be better spent elsewhere (education? green energy? more sustainable agriculture?). Limiting the sales of large sugar sweetened beverages may not solve the obesity epidemic, but it is a step in the right direction. I hope cities in Canada follow suit :)

  4. [...] store and pick up a 2-liter. Then I’d direct you to Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit, who correctly points out: “…government places reasonable limits on all sorts of behaviors and business practices, every [...]

  5. William Haar says:

    Very well put. I can buy 200 mg tablets of ibuprofen at a gas station, but if I want 400 mg tablets I need to go to the pharmacy with a prescription. Everyone knows this and no one is yelling about the “nanny state” “banning” Advil.

  6. [...] York City’s proposal to limit the size of sugary beverages sold at food service outlets. (I wrote previously about why policy this makes sense.) The hearing room at New York’s health department was [...]

  7. [...] New York City’s proposal to limit the size of sugary beverages sold at food service outlets. (I wrote previously about why this policy makes sense.) The hearing room at New York’s health department was packed [...]

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