NY Soft Drink Limitations Approved – An Important First Step

New York Health Board

photo: NY Times

Earlier this week, New York city took a first real public policy step aimed at reducing obesity through direct influence on consumer purchases. The city health board voted to limit consumption of copious soft drink calories. Sales of sugary beverages larger than 16 oz in theaters, restaurants, and street carts will be banned starting early next year. People can buy as many 16 oz cups of soda as they want.

We wrote about the proposed ban several months ago, and commended  Mayor Michael Bloomberg for taking such bold steps. Bloomberg, a billionaire who needs no one to fill his campaign coffers, is probably one of the few politicians who can truly act in favor of the public interest without caring about the backroom financial backlash afterwards. Not to say that lobbying groups did not try to battle this measure. Faux consumer groups set up by the American Beverage Association (a trade group representing Coke, Pepsi, and others) spent a million dollars to campaign against the measure.

The group – New Yorkers for Beverage Choices – tried all the tricks in the book to convince consumers that their liberties are being taken away. They played on the chord of hurting small businesses.

What they are really worried about is the implication for their sales on a national level. Success in one city will spur legislation in other, and then at a state level, and then in Washington DC.

Reminder -  A 16 oz soft drink, which is 2 cups, contains 12 to 14 teaspoons of sugar!!

Americans are consuming way too many calories from soft drinks, simply by not thinking about consumption. The beverage industry has made it exceedingly easy and psychologically rewarding for people to supersize. Public policy measures like this are needed in order to make the default choice become the healthier choice.

Your thoughts?

  • Debbie

    My choice what i drink and how much…..I am a 46 yr old woman….if i want more then 16 oz of soda it should be my choice…..freedoms even little ones shouldnt be regulated….parents need to learn to tell their kids no and send their kids out to play….that is how to end childhood obesity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.leebow Ken Leebow

    Not only is this a bad idea, it will push us in the wrong direction. Many diet and health experts believe that soda is a “weight-hazard”. Without question, sugar-sweetened beverages are not good for our health or waist-line.

    However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Americans are on, what I call, The Main Street Diet. The next time you drive down your Main Street observe. Here’s what you will find an overabundance of: fast-food, convenience stores that sell only junk food, ice-cream and yogurt parlors, cupcake stores, and upon checkout at many stores a rich array of candy and yes, over-sized soda. The next time you visit your drug store on Main Street (I have three), pay attention to the amount of candy it sells. Candidly, I’m not sure if I walked into a drug store or a candy store.

    So, while we want to demonize that one enemy, it does not exist. If weight-loss and better health is your goal, I recommend you leave The Main Street Diet. As Michael Pollan so eloquently states: You can leave the Western diet without leaving civilization. Try it, your waist-line will thank you.

    Ken Leebow
    101 Incredible Diet, Health, and Lifestyle Tips

    • Amanda

      I’ve never been in a single restaurant that didn’t serve soda. And I’ve been in a ton of restaurants, both fast food and higher quality establishments. So soda seems like a reasonable first target to me.

  • Klhark

    I don’t drink soda nor do I allow my kids to but I completely disagree with this move by Mayor Bloomberg. The United States of America was founded on freedom and the direction various governmental bodies are going frankly frightens me to no end. Where will it stop? It’s not the government’s business what I eat or drink or in what quantity.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      It’s great that you don’t drink soft drinks! Aren’t you upset that your taxes are paying to treat obesity related diseases of people who aren’t as strong willed as you? Why are corporation free to convince us to consume more junk, but we’re not free to have our legally elected officials protect us?

      • George Babbitt

        Can’t regulate on what may happen to someone’s health down the line, or
        under the assumption that even if someone’s health does degrade because
        of their diet choices, that they will hit the taxpayer up to pay for
        it. This boils down to classism. We should expect the state to make sure that we can be an informed citizenry, but not tell us what to do with that information.

        • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

          How can we have informed citizenry when Coke & others spends hundreds of billions to “inform” us we should drink sugary soft drinks and buying the silence of health organizations, yet our government spends pennies on education? An no, not every family necessarily has the means/will to educate/enforce their kids. There’s no reason a good government can’t help protect consumers as a counterbalance to corporate greed until the education piece gets sorted out.

          • George Babbitt

            So the answer is totalitarian rule until they see fit to give us liberty and democracy back based on a test to see how well informed we are, yeah that will work….

          • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

            Slow down George, how did you get to totalitarian? We’re talking public policy to protect consumers. Regulating an industry in order to protect consumers does not take away your liberties.

          • George Babbitt

            We’re not talking about man-made laboratory concoctions that have names even a Latin teacher would struggle to pronounce, we’re talking about sugar. We’re talking about putting limits on free trade. How can it be okay to stuff how many untested herbs with unknown contraindications into a pill and call it healthy living based on some ancient Chinese practitioner, yet sugar, something we fully understand, has to be restricted in it’s consumption quantities??? This is is just one example of the hypocrisy that present here.

          • DarkStar

            Do you really think anyone buys a 32Oz soda thinking it’s healthy?

      • Kevin

        This is what sin taxes are for. We have taxed cigarettes because of their negative health effects. This compensates for the consumers use of medical services. If you want to have a tax on sugar (this would also have the added benefit of creating a disincentive to put it in every product), by all means, argue for it (and I would be apt to agree), but to ban above a certain amount is not the same in principle.

        • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

          Bloomberg’ attempt to tax sugary drinks was struck down.

          • George Babbitt

            And rightly so.

        • George Babbitt

          The loss of freedom and liberty is done in small doses so as not to alarm the public. When they finally realize that they have no more rights, it’s too late, because when their rights were taken(or given away)they lost their voice too.

          • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

            The inundation of America with junk food and poisonous ingredients was also done in slow doses by corporate lobbying and payoffs for politicians to look the other ways. Now 8% of Americans have diabetes and that number is projected to continue growing if we don’t take drastic measures to protect Americans.

      • -Lj

        Wow! That question reflects a lot of hostility! Does Fooducate really want to go on the record as resenting overweight people more than others? Should people have to weigh in before accessing public services and benefits? What other “character flaws” would Fooducate like to have monitored? How thin is thin enough for health care?

        • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

          Hostile to corporations that have used lobbying to make it seem as if any regulation will take away our freedom. Protecting consumers is not taling away anybody’s freedom. It’s called public policy and it has worked in the past – see seat belts in cars, limitation on cigarette smoking, and more…

          • -Lj

            Your question was: “Aren’t you upset that your taxes are paying to treat obesity related diseases of people who aren’t as strong willed as you?” You are talking about resenting PEOPLE for being comparatively “weak willed” and/or seeking medical treatment, not resenting seat belts for being deliberately sub-standard … your statement was actually NOT addressing public policy. Your statement is that overweight PEOPLE do not deserve HEALTH CARE and should be resented by those of us who are less obviously “weak willed.” Do you really not see the difference?

            Of course I resent my tax money going into the pockets of companies that produce industrial waste and market it as food. I very much resent that “food stamps” can now be used to buy this garbage. I am aware of the legislative influences which have gotten us in this situation. But I do NOT resent people who are overweight, nor do I want to deny them access to services which my tax dollars may or may-not support.

            In my opinion, the sentence I quoted above is wrong in so many directions I could not begin to list them all. I find that question deeply offensive.

            I really do hope Fooducate rethinks this one.

          • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

            Everyone deserves to be healthy. If our government can regulate industry in our health’s favor, we should be thankful, not fear-mongering about a nanny state. As for personal choice and personal will – public health policy is needed to counteract a marketing offensive never before seen in the history of mankind – to get us to eat more junk (and as a result get fat and sick). Look around you – 2 out of 3 people are overweight. Does that seem OK to you? Don’t you think we need help?

          • -Lj

            You imply I have not looked around myself & am fear mongering — not cool. By your response it seems as though you skipped my second paragraph — not cool. Also, you are not addressing the issue I raise, which is the resentment you express toward PEOPLE for being overweight — so uncool. Does any of that seem “OK” to you?

          • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

            Are you kidding? Do you really think we resent people who are overweight? Have a look at all that Fooducate has been doing in the last few years to help people make better food choices…

          • -Lj

            Yes. You nailed it!

            I think Fooducate, as a business/organization, has a history of making terribly insensitive posts about obese PEOPLE in this blog.

            I think the comment I’m addressing here is a clear statement of resentment toward obese people. “Aren’t you upset that your taxes are paying to treat obesity related diseases of people who aren’t as strong willed as you?” Are “you kidding” that you can’t see how wretched that question is?
            As much as I LOVE the work Fooducate does to help consumers make informed food choices, I cannot stomach the attitude reflected in the quote I’ve pulled from your previous comment.
            I write this as a person who supports the serving-size legislation.


          • ads

            I agree with most of what you’ve said here. I have enjoyed Fooducate so much over the last couple of years and have appreciated the tone of the e-mails I’ve received. This moderator seems aggressive and out for an argument. I’m really surprised by it and it has somewhat taken the shine off of Fooducate for me.

          • Kimba

            We need to stop providing medical and other liberties to all the illegal aliens. They need to become Americans hold jobs and pay for insurance and taxes just like the rest of us

      • Mic

        This isn’t “our legally elected officials protecting us”, it IS an infringement upon my rights as an American citizen. If I want to go out and eat triple cheeseburgers everyday for lunch, I should have the right to do so with my own money. Now, that having been said, I do NOT eat that way and I am of a thicker build anyhow. The government should not protect people from themselves, I do believe that the government is supposed to protect people from other people.

        • http://www.facebook.com/brian.w.johnson.794 Brian W Johnson

          Well said.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sharon.puett.7 Sharon Puett

        Correction, Fooducate! Corporations are free to TRY and convince us to do or purchase things. Consumers should be equally free to make their own decisions. There is plenty on information out there to combat advertising if people care to look for it.
        And as far as my tax dollars being spent on treatment for obesity,
        (1) our taxes are getting ready to skyrocket over the next 10 years to fund healthcare regardless
        (2) There is an endless list of stupid, wasteful things that the government spends our tax dollars on. The government is like a spoiled teenager the way it takes and burns out tax dollars. Medical treatment for obesity is frankly nowhere near the top of the list

        • http://www.facebook.com/Fistukm Mayan Orgel

          The information is not at all readily available. Even if it were, people don’t necessarily question every action they do. Otherwise there’s be no progress in the world. The job of the authorities is to oversee things and protect people so that you can have the freedom to live your life.

      • ads

        This is a horrifying comment. You have taken away ANY personal responsibility whatsoever. A corporation isn’t free to convince us of anything, they are free to TRY. The individual makes that choice. I will lay down and cry the day I need government to protect me from choices like that.

        This is a pitiful argument that goes against everything our country was built on.

        • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

          Not really. We argued for more responsibility – that of the government to its people. And New York’s mayor has done just that – take responsibility through public policy in order to combat an obesity epidemic that is killing a New Yorker every 90 minutes.

          • ads

            Why does an adult need the government to make a decision like this for them? Please, please address this. Anyone paying a modicum of attention in this world knows that sugary drinks in quantity are bad for you and if they had a question about it, they could surely find the information with a little bit of effort. I just think your argument is presupposing that people are unable to fend for themselves. Maybe they’re making the choice knowing full well that it’s bad for them. Isn’t that their right? And please don’t use the tax dollars argument, there are a thousand other ways our $$ is being wasted.

    • George Babbitt

      Thank you. Liberty is the only thing that matters in this regard.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Fistukm Mayan Orgel

      No one is telling you what to eat or drink, you can get as many 16 oz. servings as you want. It just means you need to think twice since it’s going to cost you more. If anything, this is a (very small) step toward increasing the general public’s freedom. I want the freedom to live in a safe place without worrying about people who have had their sanity taken away from them, by aspartame and other neurotoxins, and don’t know any better than to shoot up a movie theater that I have the freedom to go to. Is that not my right? Should I have to be the one to pay for other people addictions?

  • WallyE

    I agree with Mayor Bloomberg’s move but it is sad that we cannot trust people to make correct food choices on their own.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      We cannot trust junk food corporations to stop marketing to our kids.

      • DarkStar

        To bad parents can’t, oh I don’t know…….maybe be parents you third children. We don’t need a baby state as you and Bloomberg seem to think we do

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessicaisabel Jessica Isabel

    As much as I enjoy Fooducate and find its information helpful and interesting, articles like this smack of condescension. Enough with the “we are the benevolent more intelligent people helping those poor unfortunate souls who don’t know better.” I don’t agree with Bloomberg’s ban either. Just because his proposal to tax sugary drinks was defeated doesn’t make this an ethical alternative. Trying to control a population (and certain demographics of that population) that *you* deem less informed and less intelligent is problematic in many ways.

    Here would be my proposed alternative (since I don’t like making criticism without offering an alternative). Incentivize healthy foods. The NYC Green Cart movement is doing great things for low-income communities and food deserts. I’ve seen it. I work in the South Bronx. I’d love to see similar stands with reasonably priced fresh juices. Just because banning large sodas is easier and more feasible doesn’t make it ethical or Constitutional.

    • George Babbitt

      “Just because banning large sodas is easier and more feasible doesn’t make it ethical or Constitutional.”

      Well put.

  • Laura Boyer, new orleans

    I dont think the government telling people what they can drink is the right way to go. I think we need to make smaller servings available for an affordable price. The public has a skewed perception of what a single serving should be. They know they can get more for their money when they buy the extra large for a dollar. The government should be working to make fresh produce and healthy choices affordable for everyone. It’s a shame that low income citizens can eat cheaply from the dollar menu and can’t afford the healthy choices.

  • heidi

    honestly, it will not make an impact. places will get around it with free refills and people who want to drink more than 16oz will just buy 2 sodas and then the state just gets 2x the bottle deposits and tax.

    • George Babbitt

      And twice the trash.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.w.johnson.794 Brian W Johnson

    I think this might just be the article that makes me stop following, supporting, and recommending Fooducate. If you are backing politicians who favor taking basic liberties and freedoms away, then I no longer want anything to do with your site. I thank you for being a leader with informing the public with great information. However, I refuse to support any police-state/socialist approach to the American way.

    • DarkStar

      Sadly I have to agree, I will not support and/or promote a site that actively support creation of a nanny state

  • Karim

    Way to go Bloomberg!! Our country is full of obese people and obviously it’s only getting worse. There should be regulations on harmful substances including and not limited to sugar. I support fooducate and NY for the step they have taken. I just hope more states take a look and adopt this. People need to realize we have a major problem with diabetes and numerous other health problems. This is in no way discriminatory against heavy or obese people, this is just a step to help prevent people from becoming obese. America will never become a totalitarian, get real. Open your eyes people. This is for the good of people’s health. Period.

  • Bradley

    Agree with Fooducate on this one – banning oversized soft drinks is just plain common sense. Erosion of liberties? Well, you can’t have an advanced, generously publicly-funded healthcare system (Medicare, Medicaid, non-refusal of emergency room visits regardless of insurance or ability to pay) without reasonable laws protecting and enhancing public health. Want 24 oz soft drinks? Fine, first argue to abolish all spending on public health. Ask Grandma how she’ll cope buying all her Medicare Part D blood pressure drugs _completely_ from her own purse. You can’t come to expect handouts from the government without allowing it to curb your worst impulses for the betterment of all. You argue for one, you argue for the other.

  • Catherine

    Most of these comments are just laughable. ‘Don’t take away our freedoms!!’ they all rant. Come on!!! Obviously (really, OBVIOUSLY) this isn’t going to miraculously stop people from making poor food choices but it might make people stop and think and bring up a discussion. A discussion that Corporate America doesn’t want to have. Because they are too busy brainwashing and killing everyone (junk food and pharmaceutical companies…). You know what else? Do you really think you are ‘free’? How can the total onslaught of marketing that is the last century be something to fight so vehemently for? You think marketing represents free speech??? Do you have any idea the amount of money poured into marketing psychology to manipulate the way you think? It sure is effective going by the nonsensical comments displayed here. You are being controlled more than at any other time in history. My goodness, no wonder this country is falling apart.

    • ads

      The point is that it’s a slippery slope. I am free to make choices. I’m absolutely sure I’ve been a victim of marketing many times but I also know that when I’ve not seen the results promised, I don’t buy that product again.

      The country is falling apart partially because of outlooks like yours, I believe.

      • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

        Conversely, one could argue that the marketing of junk food has gone way past “slippery slope”. When it comes to obesity related diseases such as diabetes, the “result” doesn’t appear until 10 or 20 years after purchase and consumption. That’s a tad too late… The US is a strong country and not falling apart.
        But we need to understand how we are being manipulated by junk food corporations to consume unhealthy products.

        • ads

          How SOME people are being manipulated. We are not all being manipulated. Maybe some people just don’t care at all what they ingest and education or a ruling like this isn’t going to stop it. I have never ordered a 32 ounce soda so this doesn’t affect me, but I am extremely wary of government dictating something like this. This marketing you refer to is no different than the snake oil salesmen who traveled by horse and buggy years ago. You’ll have people who will buy into things and others who will not.

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  • RJ

    Amen to the Mayors decision. Small baby steps toward fighting our obesity epidemic, but progress nonetheless. If it wasn’t such an epidemic that affects EVERY American (higher health care costs , etc.), than I would have a problem with personal liberties as well. I hope that the rest of the nation soon follows this example.

    • tdselkie

      I agree. I work with students every day doing nutrition education. There are many ways to look at and attack the problem of obesity. Do you want to be the one who your grandkids say to you, “Why didn’t you do something to stop the obesity epidemic when you had a chance?” I don’t. I think every angle we can take will help just a little. Soda is evil and people are addicted. Corporations are not honest and they are only in it for the money. Government is charged with taking care of the public good. How can this not be GOOD?

  • Gerome

    Three things:

    I generally agree with George on this issue and that this is not a role the government should get involved in. One would think that if we’re so darned worried about health, we’d restrict cigarette use. After sugary drinks, why not fatty ice cream? High fat and high sugar… a lot worse than a soda in many eyes.

    Second, does anyone have any EVIDENCE that this policy will have the intended effect of reducing overweight and obesity? (I’ll answer my own question — “no, there is no evidence”) The obesity epidemic is COMPLEX, and this one policy is not very likely to have a measurable effect.

    Third, the problem is complicated by corn subsidies. Soda used to be kind of expensive. Now it is cheaper than milk. The whole conversation about cola companies trying to sell us products is skewed when we take into account that we are underwriting the cost of their most expensive ingredient. Instead of restricting access to the product, end the subsidy and let the customer decide if he/she wants to buy a cola.

  • Scooby Doo

    This ban is ridiculous. I’m all for banning trans fats because they’re
    poison and have no nutritional value no matter what the amount.
    Banning sizes of soft drinks just opens up a pandora’s box of
    well-intended but I’ll-advised regulation. People need to be educated.
    That’s why I like fooducate. They don’t need to be forced into making
    wise decisions about food.

  • Food4aBetter2morrow

    I feel that this step is an overall healthier one! People on here have been saying that our liberties are being taken away, and in some aspect that is true. If you want to have the liberty to drink tons of soda in one container then yes, that is being taken away. They are doing it for the publics greater good, and like they said if you want to have more, get more cups of the soda. If you are so worried about the trash that this makes, then don’t have more than one cup. This fight for a better lifestyle is what we are wanting as consumers, but when our “freedoms” are infringed to create steps toward this better lifestyle then we get angry. We want to be healthy, but we don’t want to have to work for it. This is partly what they are doing by enacting this limit on soft drinks, they are helping to create an environment where it is easier to be healthy. We got bigger as companies made it easier to be less healthy, so to reverse that we must get smaller as companies (or limits/legislations) make it easier to be healthy. Sometimes it isn’t just the fact that people are stupid or not educated, but it is the fact that companies make it so easy to choose wrongly. This psychology is exactly what companies want you to buy into, even if it is sub-conscious. This is a step towards a healthier world, nothing more. We are not creating a dystopia in the future because we are regulating sugary drinks that are a luxury and not necessary for daily life. People need to calm down and look at the bigger picture. Sometimes we need a push in the right direction, and this is one of those pushes. Seat belts, that was a push. Cigarette taxing, that was a push. Decrease in the size of soda consumption, that is a push! Calm down people. This is good.

    • gerome

      Meanwhile, in a Wendy’s where you can’t buy a 20 oz. soda, you may purchase a sandwich with a full day’s worth of sodium (hypertension) nearly a day-and-a-half worth of saturated fat (coronary artery disease), and, in ONE SANDWICH, half your day’s caloric intake. Thank goodness we’re restricting your sugar so you can feel good about eating this bomb.

      Now, personally, I would rather drink sugar than eat saturated fat. And if I were worried about calories that other people were consuming, I would be far more concerned about a Wendy’s bacon double burger than a Coke. But more importantly — I would not restrict access as a way of “educating” anyone!

      By the way, cigarette smoking would be 100% legal everywhere if it did not affect persons other than the smoker. Period. So, save that argument for another occasion.

      I appreciate that you THINK this will help, and that you DON’T THINK that this is an infringement on rights. I think, though, that you are wrong on both counts. Forcing people to drink a smaller cola has not been proven to change behavior or weight. And, still, the question remains, when we start with this restriction, what is next?… because there sure are a lot of legal food products that are just as bad for you or worse than a Coke.

  • Morghan

    Education, yes.
    Regulation, no.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Fistukm Mayan Orgel

    Although I commend Mayor Bloomberg for this small step he took to help his city, I think it should have been done with a different approach. All he did was limit the portion size of toxic fluid that can be sold. Since one can buy as many portions as they want, all it really seems to do is upset the consumer. They now have to spend more money to get their fix.
    What should be done instead, is place a restriction on the side of the manufacturer. First, the manufacturers should not be allowed to market this toxic fluid as a drink. It is not a drink and should not be consumed as such. There should be laws that require manufacturers to be truthful about what they are selling. This system would give liberty to the manufacturers to sell what they want and the liberty for the consumer to get what they paid for. If Joe Shmoe wishes to 10 gallons buy motor oil, he should be allowed to. The motor oil manufacturer should be allowed to sell it as long as they market it as motor oil. If Joe Shmoe chooses to drink his newly acquired 10 gallons of motor oil it should be his choice – it is not the government’s place to stop him!

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  • Miranda

    This is a wonderful idea! Yes this is America and you have your freedoms but our nation is extremely unhealthy. If you have enough will power to not drink soda then more power to you. But some people aren’t that strong and need a little help. They aren’t taking away your “freedom” to drink soda, because you can go buy as many 16 oz sodas that you want. But the amount of sugar in soda is quite alarming and this a a good step toward reducing America’s obesity problem.

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  • tensacross

    OMG, FOODUCATE, what next? shall we ban birthday cakes? all that SUGAR!!!
    maybe you should rename yourself THE FOOD-FORCE PATROL!
    because it seems youd rather force people to eat the way you want than educate them and let them make their own decisions.

    (and as far as your pitiful argument that fat people cost society money in the form of medical bills, gimme a break. get yourself some perspective. you know what costs society a lot more money than fat people? our policy of endless war, thats what! over half the nation’s budget spent on exporting DEATH and WREAKING HAVOC overseas!
    how bout this, one less drone, and we get to drink all the soda we want, k? :p )