No 16-oz sugary drinks for you, New Yorkers

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New Yorkers accustomed to making their own beverage choices may soon have to cede further control to the iron fist of Mayor Bloomberg: The King Mayor has proposed a new city-wide ban on larger servings of sodas and other sugary drinks. Though it s no surprise that the Mayor, in conjunction with Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, is targeting soda yet again, the latest measure is his most extreme by far.

If the Mayor has his way, sales of common sugary drinks that exceed 16 ounces will be prohibited in delis, fast-food franchises, sports arenas, chain restaurants, and certain carts found on sidewalks and in Central Park. The ban would encompass soda, pre-sweetened coffees and tea, and fruit and sports drinks containing sugar (e.g., Gatorade). Only fruit juices, diet sodas, or beverages with fewer than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving would be exempt from the ban.

The ostensible basis for Bloomberg s proposal is that soda is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, and thus should be regulated more stringently. Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, Oh, this is terrible, the Mayor stated in an interview at City Hall yesterday. New York City is not about wringing your hands; it s about doing something. I think that s what the public wants the mayor to do.

In fact, it s quite the opposite, counters ACSH s Dr Elizabeth Whelan. Most people want the Mayor and other officials to stop micromanaging every aspect of their lives, including what beverages they re allowed to drink and in what amounts. Not only is the latest proposed ban frightening in terms of government overreach, but it will have no impact on obesity.

According to Dr. Farley, sweetened drinks are to blame for up to half of the increase in New York City s obesity rates over the last 30 years. Furthermore, he notes that neighborhoods with higher obesity rates are associated with higher-than-average rates of soda consumption.

Not so fast with those statistics, says Dr. Ross, who points out that obesity rates have actually stabilized nationwide over the last few years, and obesity rates among New York City schoolchildren have improved significantly over the past few years without such a bizarre governmental overreach. Moreover, research demonstrates that there is no correlation between per capita soda consumption and weight. There is no solid evidence showing that restricting sodas to a certain size will have the slightest impact on obesity, he says. In addition, enforcement of such a regulation would not only be quite costly, but it would also be extremely complex, given the various interpretations of the regulations.

By that, Dr. Ross is referring to the many exceptions to the proposed ban. For instance, while sweetened coffee or tea may not be sold in sizes larger than 16 ounces, lattes or cappuccinos (51 percent milk content) are permitted in any size, whether sweetened or not. Also exempt from the regulation are alcohol, fruit juices with at least 70 percent juice content, and dairy-based drinks such as milkshakes a detail that provoked much laughter around the ACSH table.

Milkshakes and juices are exonerated because everyone knows they don t contain any calories, jokes Dr. Ross. This measure finally demonstrates how far over the line the Mayor is willing to go to promote his nanny-state agenda.

And why stop at sugar-sweetened beverages? asks Dr. Whelan. Why not limit the number of pizza slices or burgers people can consume? Is Bloomberg going to order McDonald s to stop selling Big Macs? That does indeed seem to be the logical next step.

And ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava adds, I wonder if we re going to see a bunch of two for the price of one sales of the drinks affected by this act.

Prior to enactment, the proposed ban must first gain the approval of the Board of Health, though some speculate this may not be much of a challenge since Dr. Farley, who supports the regulation, is the board s chairman, while the remaining members are appointed by the Mayor.

If passed, the ban will prohibit the sale of regular sodas exceeding 16 ounces at specified venues and locations whether bottled or soda fountain. The restriction applies to restaurants as well, which will be allowed to serve only cup sizes of 16 ounces or less, even if customers opt to drink diet soda. Free refills, however, and additional drink purchases, will be permitted.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom is still shaking his head on this one. What is this guy thinking? he wonders. As if putting this insane law into practice is going to do anything except create one more annoyance in a city already full of them.

Among his many wrong-headed so-called public health measures, this is simply the most incredible proposal yet to come out of the Bloomberg administration, says Dr. Whelan, This is sure to rile nearly every New Yorker as much as it did us.