NYC puts the kibosh on super-sized drinks

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It was no surprise to ACSH staffers and many New Yorkers yesterday when news broke that the New York City Board of Health had approved a mayoral regulation banning super-sized sugary drinks at certain restaurants, concession stands, and other eateries.

The legislation, strongly promoted by Mayor Bloomberg and his Department of Health, goes into effect March 12 of 2013. It puts a 16-ounce limit on the sale of non-diet soda, sweetened teas, and other beverages. But not to worry you can still get your venti pumpkin-spice latte with extra whipped cream, because the ban will not affect drinks consisting of more than 50 percent milk or milk substitute, nor will it affect 100 percent juice beverages.

The regulation is based on the supposition that restricting super-sized sugary drinks will significantly lower calorie consumption, and thus the prevalence of obesity, among New Yorkers. We at ACSH find this logic flawed.

We of course agree that obesity is a significant health threat, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. Yet recent data indicate that, in New York City at least, the proportion of young school children who are obese has actually declined somewhat in the last few years and this did not occur with any governmental restrictions on beverage size.

As ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava observes, The only thing that might come from this piece of legislation is increased awareness. As she points out, Consumption of excess calories from any source, not just calorically-sweetened beverages, will lead to weight gain and should be discouraged. A focus on a single source of calories or a single food is inappropriate, and likely to be ineffective.

ACSH s Cheryl Martin also notes how media coverage of the new restriction has focused on opposition almost solely from corporations and trade associations. What about the consumers? she asks. Recent polls show that a majority of New Yorkers are also not so keen on the ban.

This intrusive measure will have zero impact on the totality of obesity in New York, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. As one of the members of his own board of health told the mayor, the problem should be treated holistically, not by focusing on one ingredient or product. Ultimately, the proposed restriction constitutes an unwarranted experiment on New Yorkers, without their consent, and should not be imposed upon them.