New York's Soda Ban

By: Erika Kolb

Earlier this year, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg offered a proposal banning the sale of any sweetened drinks in a container larger than 16 ounces. Excluded from this ban are diet sodas, juices, dairy drinks (milk, milkshakes, etc.), and alcoholic beverages. Additionally, grocery stores would not be subject to the ban even on sweetened beverages. The goal of the measure is to help curb the rate of obesity in the city. In September, the New York City Health Board approved this measure which is set to go into effect in March 2013. However, earlier this month a lawsuit was filed by the 12 organizations, including the beverage industry in opposition to the ban.

The key question is whether or not it would be effective in reducing obesity in New York City. It has been shown that when served smaller portions, people consume less. It seems to follow that if you can only consume 16 ounces or less of sugary, caloric drinks in certain circumstances, you will consume less of such beverages. The decreased consumption of sugary beverages can lead to weight loss.

But why the attack on sodas rather than other high caloric foods? Beverage calories and food calories may be equivalent in terms of energy, but they do not influence your hunger the same way.   If you eat a lot at one meal, you’re going to eat less at the next one. However, if you drink your calories, your body doesn’t adjust for the extra intake at the next meal. This clip from HBO’s The Weight of the Nation (found between minutes 28:50-30:43) explains this idea. However, it also raises another question: why soda rather than other caloric beverages?

It seems to me, that at the end of the day this ban offers up more questions than answers. Research, as summarized in the article here, seems to come to mixed conclusions about the influence of caloric beverages, and soda in particular. This can be seen as merely an exercise of looking like the government is acting when really nothing substantial is being done. Further, lack of sufficient targeting among the population may hurt the ban’s success in aiding in the reduction of obesity. If it isn’t reaching the correct people, it doesn’t provide any substantial benefits. It may be more useful to target specific segments of the population, such as children by better regulating school lunches, in order to see a more pronounced effect.

The success (or failure) of the ban could influence how other cities and states move forward with their obesity prevention and reduction programs. Already there have been talks about Washington, D.C. following suit. For now, we’ll see if the ban even goes into place. If and when it does, you can be sure there will be people watching.

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