Studies are mixed on whether drastic public-health measures like Bloomberg’s can actually change behavior. Some show that people consume less in restaurants where calorie counts are available, for example, than where they aren’t, while others show that people actually tend to consume more when provided with such information. And low-income populations, which tend to have higher rates of obesity and health problems to start with, appear to be the least affected by such changes.
Still, Bloomberg and the city’s health department cite New York’s rising life expectancy as proof that the measures are working.
After a New York judge struck down a planned ban on supersize soft drinks in New York City on Monday, legal experts say it could have ramifications for other cities’ attempts to restrict jumbo sugary beverages -- including a measure proposed in Cambridge.
Some restaurants are ordering smaller glasses. Dunkin' Donuts shops are telling customers they'll have to sweeten and flavor their own coffee. Coca-Cola has printed posters explaining the new rules, and a bowling lounge is squeezing carrot and beet juice as a potential substitute for pitchers of soda at family parties — all in preparation for the nation's first limit on the size of sugar-laden beverages, set to take effect Tuesday.
Some businesses are holding off, hoping a court challenge nixes or at least delays the restriction. But many are getting ready for tasks including reprinting menus and changing movie theaters' supersized soda-and-popcorn deals.
Curbing obesity has been the latest goal of the mayor, who has been concerned about high rates of diabetes and weight-related health issues. More than half of adult New Yorkers are obese or overweight, according to the city’s health department, which said it believed 5,000 New Yorkers died every year as a result of health problems related to obesity.
Critics of the mayor’s proposal — including some City Council members and a mayoral contender, the former city comptroller, William C. Thompson — said the measure could lead to small businesses losing money on sales. An advertising campaign by the soda industry, which has so far cost more than $1 million, stressed that the policy would restrict consumers’ freedom to buy beverages as they see fit.
A judge threw out New York City’s ban on supersized sugary drinks today, prompting an angry Mayor Michael Bloomberg to say the judge was “totally in error” and that “we’re talking about lives versus profits.”
Judge Milton Tingling called the soda ban “arbitrary and capricious” in a 36 page order. Passed in September and scheduled to take effect Tuesday, the law “would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it. Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling than sugar sweetened beverages,” he said.
n a news conference following the court ruling, Bloomberg said, “We’re talking about lives versus profits.”
“If we are serious about fighting obesity, we have to be honest about what causes it.”
“While other people wring their hands … in New York City we’re doing something about it… It would be irresponsible not to try to do everything we can to save lives,” he said.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement, “Without a portion cap on sugary drinks, it would be harder to tackle an obesity epidemic that kills more New Yorkers than anything other than smoking and causes misery for many thousands more who suffer from heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating illnesses. Sugary drinks are a leading cause of this epidemic. Today’s decision threatens the health of New Yorkers, but we are confident that we will win on appeal.”
The American Beverage Association, which is a member of the coalition that challenged the law, said the judge’s ruling “provides a sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban.”
Health inspectors can issue violations carrying fines of $200. But the city will not start levying fines until June, after a three-month grace period to allow vendors to adjust to the new rules.
What is a sugary beverage, anyway?
According to the city, it’s a drink with more than 25 calories per eight ounces, which has either been sweetened by the manufacturer or mixed with another caloric sweetener. The ban did not apply to pure fruit juice or fruit smoothies, drinks that are more than half milk, calorie-free diet sodas or alcoholic beverages. Milkshakes, if they were more than half milk or ice cream, were exempt. But sweetened coffee drinks, if less than half milk, were not. (Frappucinos were a source of confusion as late as last week.)
The regulation was adopted in September to help lower obesity rates, but a state Supreme Court judge overturned it as "arbitrary and capricious."
Dozens of community groups and minority organizations signed on to friend-of-the-court, or amicus, briefs in support of the appeal, said Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley, in a news release.
"Soda in large amounts is metabolically toxic," said Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Soda is indeed the right target," he said, contradicting some who had testified against the proposal by saying that soda is just one product that contributes to obesity.
Health experts also called out the soda industry for what they described as a misleading campaign with rhetoric about freedom, when the real goal, they said, is protecting profits...
New York City's Board of Health in September passed regulation capping non-diet sodas and other calorie-laden beverages at 16 ounces in many of the city's locations, the culmination of a months-long battle between health advocates and the beverage industry.
While the ban only affects drinks sold at sites inspected by the city's health department--including movie theaters, restaurants and concession stands--the measure has shaken up an industry already rattled by a growing consumer emphasis on healthier drink options.