The New York City Board of Health on Thursday voted to ban restaurant sales of supersized sugary drinks, becoming the first city in the nation with a so-called "soda ban."
The measure prohibits city restaurants, delis, sports facilities, and street vendors (but not grocery stores or convenience stores) from selling soda and other sweetened beverages in servings exceeding 16 ounces.
Advocates of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to curb the escalating obesity problem hailed the vote, while opponents — including beverage makers — say it violates First Amendments rights. The beverage industry has vowed to challenge the ruling in court.
"The Board of Health did the right thing for New York," said Dr. Steven Safyer, president and CEO of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, in a statement. "For the past several years, I've seen the number of children and adults struggling with obesity skyrocket, putting them at early risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Sugary beverages play a major role in this cycle, and are so heavily marketed to children, they jeopardize the next generation of New Yorkers."
Eliot Hoff, spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a coalition of individuals and businesses opposed to the regulations, said recently the issue isn't about weight, it's about freedom. As he sees it, "the people of New York can make their own decisions about what they eat or drink."
In the battle against obesity, "more choice rather than less choice is the way to go," Hoff believes. In the United States, nearly two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bloomberg says health-related problems, which include increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, cost the city about $4 billion a year.
The measure, which Bloomberg's self-appointed board was expected to pass, will likely take effect within six months. Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said the notion of enacting policies that help guide people to opt for a reasonable serving size and consume fewer empty calories makes sense.
"At a minimum what it does do is bring more attention to the issue of empty calories from sugar-sweetened beverages," she said. Supporters of the soda regulations include the American Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School Professor Walter Willett, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. The soda ban is the latest in a series of ambitious efforts by the Bloomberg administration to improve the health of New Yorkers.
Some have set national precedents, such as making chain restaurants post calorie counts prominently on their menus. The city also has barred artificial trans fats from restaurant food and taken aggressive steps to discourage smoking. And this month, dozens of city hospitals will ask mothers of newborns to listen to talks about why they should breast-feed instead of using formula, according to the Associated Press.