Soda cups larger than 16 ounces will no longer be an option at any of New York City’s restaurants, mobile food carts, movie theaters, or sports venues in six months. On September 13, New York City’s Board of Health passed the large soda ban initiated by Mayor Bloomberg last May. New York City is officially the first city to ban super-sized drinks. The ban was passed with eight votes and one abstention, and it applies to soda, sweetened ice tea, and energy drinks—classes of drinks that tend to contain empty calories.
While the ban will impact a majority of drink vendors, grocery stores and convenience stores are exempt from the ban. This is welcome news for 7-Eleven, the home of the Big Gulp. The New York Times characterizes the Big Gulp as a line of super-sized cups marketed by 7-Eleven as “genetically engineered to quench even the most diabolical thirst.” Growing in 10-ounce increments, Gulps start out at 20 ounces, the infamous Big Gulp holds 30 ounces, and the Double Gulp holds an astonishing 50 ounces. Double Gulps can contain 600 calories depending on the beverage.
One of the leading reasons for the ban was the simple fact that a person can (often unknowingly) consume 600 liquid calories in one sitting. The ban is aimed at raising awareness about the relationship between sugary drinks and obesity—a relationship confirmed in many studies on obesity. Close to 6,000 New Yorkers die from obesity a year. Health experts note that sugary drinks are high in calories, provide no nutritional value, and are often consumed in large quantities in addition to high calorie meals, leading to extra caloric intake, often at a dangerous level. Sugary drink consumption is also associated with diabetes and heart disease. One in eight adult New Yorkers has diabetes. A simple switch in beverage size is an easy way to reduce these harmful effects.
A 16-ounce drink contains 63 fewer calories on average than a 32-ounce drink. Simple changes in portion control can go a long way. Mayor Bloomberg’s team projects that, “if New Yorkers on average reduced portion size from 20 ounces to 16 ounces for one sugary drink every 2 weeks, with no other changes, the New Yorkers would collectively save approximately 2.3 million pounds over one year.” Whether or not consumers flock to 7-Eleven after the ban takes effect remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Bloomberg’s ban and the data behind it gives New Yorkers some important food for thought.
Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts have not come without criticism. Before the ban passed, the Center for Consumer Freedom took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with a picture of Mayor Bloomberg dressed as an old women followed by the headline, “New Yorkers need a Mayor, not a Nanny.” Critics have attacked the ban on two grounds. Consumers argue that the ban is a violation of their right to decide how much to drink. At the Million Big Gulp March this past March, capped at around two-dozen protestors, the protestors chanted “Drink Free Or Die.” Restaurant and beverage industry spokesmen believe that the ban is misguided in that it will do nothing to reduce obesity. The beverage industry has plans to fight the ban in court.
Mayor Bloomberg’s passion and determination in seeing the ban come to fruition is very much in line with what he believes a mayor should be doing: caring about the health of his city and its people. Whether or not his actions portray him as the nanny of New Yorkers, the statistics provide a compelling a case for New York City to take an interest in fighting obesity and other easily deterred health issues. Mayor Bloomberg has not taken away a person’s right to choose what they drink, he has simply made it more difficult for people to unknowingly consume a high amount of empty liquid calories in one sitting.