Mayor Bloomberg’s Soda Ban & The Nanny State

(image via Examiner.com)

(image via Examiner.com)

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.

10 Comments

  1. Great post! Obesity is becoming an epidemic in this country. The long-term health consequences of the lack of portion control of these unhealthy foods are still unknown. Those who truly want to drink that amount of soda can still do so at a cost and those who don’t are now better informed and may reap some health benefits of consuming less.

  2. “He 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 setting”

    This sentence is disingenuous and inaccurate. What he has taken away is a person’s ability to decide how much they want or feel they need to drink on a particular occasion. He has not “simply” made it more difficult to consume; in particular settings consumption beyond a specified limit is prohibited completely. This is true whether or not the person is aware of the caloric value of the beverage. Your statement, “Simply made it more difficult for people to unknowingly” should more accurately read “Definitively made it illegal for people whether knowingly or unknowingly.” There are many less intrusive and paternalistic methods of encouraging disclosure of nutritional information. To satisfy his personal agenda, Mayor Bloomberg has taken away every person’s right to the occasional “splurge”.

    • I think by saying, “simply made it more difficult for people to unknowingly…” the author means to say that now, people are forced to be aware of the size of the drink (and hence, the amount of calories) they wish to consume. It is not “definitively illegal” for people to consume a high amount of empty liquid calories in one setting because they still have the option to buy more than one drink. However, with the ban, it certainly is more difficult for people to be unaware of the caloric nature of the beverage they wish to consume.

    • “To satisfy his personal agenda, Mayor Bloomberg has taken away every person’s right to the occasional ‘splurge’ ”

      This sentence is also inaccurate. In no way does anyone lose the right to “splurge”. With smaller sized sweetened drinks, one could simply purchase multiple orders of the same drink to satiate one’s desire for said beverage.

      However, this ban is only an empty gesture which will ultimately have negligible effect. By exempting grocery stores and convenience stores from the ban, the influence of the ban will hardly be felt by New Yorkers. Mayor Bloomberg is simply making a grand statement, but cannot follow-through with what really needs to be done, which is a comprehensive ban on all sources of super-sized drinks.

  3. Alan Dexter Bowman September 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    The ban merely renders gluttony inconvenient on a locational basis. To thwart the well -intentioned limits ,one need merely travel to a nearby establishment. The law is to obesity what the Dram Shop Act is to alcohol. Diabetes significantly raises health care costs and reduces the productive work force. Any fair law promoting healthy living is laudatory.

  4. This article presents a well-balanced picture of the benefits and potentially inappropriate governmental intervention into the well-being of its citizens. Although Bloomberg appears to be well-intentioned; he cannot legislate what he perceives to be a healthy lifestyle. The resources spent on implementing this legislation might be better spent on educating consumers on the risks of ingesting “empty” calories.

  5. I see Bloomberg’s action as having two effects. First, he is making it more difficult for people to consume large quantities of empty calories. Second, by reducing the maximum size of soda that is available to consumers, he forces those consumers to consider other, healthier options that will still be available in large cups. The second effect is the education factor, as a consumer who wants to consume more than 16 ounces will have to make a conscious choice to purchase a second or third cup of soda. Bloomberg presumably believes that forcing customers to purchase an additional cup will raise a red flag, with consumers hopefully changing their pattern and selecting healthier drink options.

  6. I understand the motivation behind the ban, because obesity and the health effects associated with it is a huge problem in our country. However, I also think that it is a bit paternalistic to assume that people don’t know what they are doing when they buy a soda of such a huge quantity. And if people want to drink that much soda, they will still be able to do it, so the end effect of this ban is to make it more expensive for people to buy soda. People are making a conscious choice to ingest that many calories, and they will continue to do so, regardless of the restrictions that NYC places on their choices. Maybe a more effective way to go about combating NYC’s obesity problem is to institute some sort of program to educate people on the dangers of super sized drinks without acting like they are incapable of making their own choices.

  7. There is an elephant in the room and it’s name is Diet Coke. I find it humorous that people completely overlook the fact that the ban does not apply to diet drinks. What I think this ban is ultimately going to do is funnel people towards sugar-free alternatives like diet soda (for better or worse). In fact, “soda ban” is really a misnomer when you count up the number of exceptions (vending machines, some news stands, convenience stores, grocery stores, all diet sodas, etc.).

    “The restrictions would not affect fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; no-calorie diet sodas would not be affected, but establishments with self-service drink fountains, like many fast-food restaurants, would not be allowed to stock cups larger than 16 ounces.” – The New York Times
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/nyregion/health-board-approves-bloombergs-soda-ban.html?_r=0

    Also, from New Yorkers for Beverage Choices:
    “What beverages are exempt from the restriction?
    Diet sodas or any other calorie-free drink will be exempt from the restriction along with any drink that is at least half-milk or half-milk substitute.

    Does the restriction apply to free refills at restaurants?
    No, it doesn’t. Consumers can refill a beverage at a restaurant as many times as they want.”
    http://nycbeveragechoices.com/the-facts/

    And Margaret, you said that, “The end effect of this ban is to make it more expensive for people to buy soda.” I think that just the opposite would be true since the only soda-purchasing option left in now is in convenience and grocery stores where soda is significantly cheaper than in movie theaters and on street carts. If you want to make a supply and demand argument, then the ban would have to be significantly bigger (like nation-wide) to affect the the price of soda.

  8. Remember Coca Cola’s bears? Check out the Real Bears:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=myxwCEGcBYc#!

    The debate continues on.

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