As you may have heard, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sugar-sweetened drinks was approved by the New York City’s Board of Health yesterday morning. This ban means that all restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and even food carts in the city will be barred from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.
I would be compelled to say that this is ridiculous and unnecessary. I would say that soda is a small part of the obesity equation. I would also say that this is America, and if people want to fill their insides with processed, sugar water served in trough-sized containers, that is their choice and their right to do so. I would say these things, even shout them from my balcony filled with neglected and malnourished plants, if I thought we, as a nation, could make responsible and conscious decisions when it comes to our overall health. However, it is clear from the staggering percentage of Americans classified as obese (35.7%!) that we need some supervision.
But what can we do? If it’s available, it must be safe to consume, right? If the larger size is only four cents more than the size I ordered, why wouldn’t I upgrade? It would be stupid to turn down a deal like that, right? And look at the pictures of those happy, skinny people enjoying this alluring menu item!
We not only need supervision, we need guidance, more information.
So Mary, as a dietitian, do you think this ban in NYC is a step in the right direction in terms of combating obesity?
Yes. Every little bit helps. It will make people think twice before drinking large amounts of sugary liquids just because they are there. Large servings make it too easy for people to over-consume sugar and calories. Research does link sugary drinks to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity and, in adults, type 2 diabetes. On average, obese people spend $1,400 more a year on health care compared to someone of normal weight. The mayor is just looking out for our physical and fiscal health.
If people choose to order a second serving of a sugary beverage, they will be allowed to do so. Do you think the people that have been ordering these gigantic drinks will just do that instead?
Yes. At first, those people may choose to buy two 16-ounce sodas just because they can and to protest the infringement on their civil liberties, but in time, people will get tired of paying for two sodas and giant-size portions will look strange. The mayor’s efforts to make the city healthier are usually met with opposition, but people get used to them over time.
Clearly, customers have never been forced to order these super-sized drinks. The ones that have and do on a regular basis, choose this option themselves. Why do you think Mayor Bloomberg chose to ban beverages and not food? Aren’t there numerous food options that are just as unhealthy?
Research doesn’t show sugary drinks cause obesity, but they do link sugary drinks to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity and type 2 diabetes. But soda is also a low hanging fruit. It is a single substance that is easy to identify, and unlike other problem foods (e.g. French fries, burgers), it has no redeeming nutritional value. No one can argue that soda is a necessary food, yet so many people choose to indulge. Or do they even think about it? Now they might.
I think this is a great public health project because it affects young people. According to NHANES data, approximately one-half of the population over age 2 drinks sugary drinks every day, and among boys aged 2–19, 70% consume sugar drinks on any given day! Let’s nip that bad habit in the bud.
Do you think this ban will spread to other states?
It could move in that direction. That’s the way it works. In 2008, New York City was the first to pass a law mandating the posting of calories on chain restaurant menus, and now it’s a national law. The champions of public health will push it.
What are some basic substitutions or steps we could all make to improve our daily diet?
Something dreadful has happened to our diet. We have lost our reference point and must relearn it. In general, people should eat minimally processed food: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish lean meat, and dairy products, no more than what we need. To move from general advice to specifics, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov the food guidance system from the USDA. It’s very good, and we own it.
What are some other restrictions or requirements you’d like to see these establishments implement, to help combat obesity?
Restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, sports stadiums are adding healthier items to their menus because people are asking for it. When a larger percent of the society embraces good health, things will change even faster.
Big thanks to Mary for sharing her incredible insight.
Now I want to hear from YOU. What do you think of this new soda ban? Do you agree with it?
Image via ColbertNewsHub