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New York City's super-sized step to eliminate obesity

Last week New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (via The New York Times) announced he plans to institute a large-scale ban on the sale of super-sized sodas and sweetened drinks at movie theatres, restaurants and street carts in the city.

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Last week New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (via The New York Times) announced he plans to institute a large-scale ban on the sale of super-sized sodas and sweetened drinks at movie theatres, restaurants and street carts in the city.

The mayor, who has also enacted a ban on the use of trans fats in restaurant food and prohibited smoking in restaurants and public parks, believes the measure will strike a blow in the battle against rising rates of obesity.  

Bloomberg told the paper: “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something.”

And yet, what the ban will actually “do,” or achieve is a source of some debate.

Under the ban, the sale of large size sodas and some sweetened drinks in excess of 16 ounces will be prohibited — but not at grocery stores and convenience stores. Moreover, the ban doesn’t affect the sale of oversize fruit juices, diet sodas, milkshakes and alcoholic beverages.

Stranger still, while a year from now people may not be able to buy a 32-ounce Pepsi from a street vendor, they can buy two 16-ounce sodas. Or they can ask for refills at the movie theatre.

Critics have also assailed the mayor’s plan for its seeming attempt to police the drinking habits of the city’s poorer residents — treating them as individuals whose nutritional habits need to be governed. As UK paper, The Guardian points out Starbucks customers can still tuck into their Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino. And yet, cheaper options will still be available as well. That all-American icon of sugary excess 7-Eleven’s Double Big Gulp, which taps outs at 64 ounces, won’t be affected either as it’s sold in a convenience store.

In an interview with Today’s Matt Lauer last week, Bloomberg said that the ban isn’t intended to infringe on anyone’s personal freedoms or their right to purchase sodas rather it’s simply an attempt to introduce the idea of moderation.  

While sugary drinks are often cited as a factor in the increased rates of obesity in North America, especially among children, many experts view the issue as far more involved than the old ‘calories in, calories out’ model and often see the problem of obesity as a symptom of a web of factors that include environment, socio-economic status, as well as lifestyle factors.