New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has charted a course for fighting obesity that does not – at least at the outset – depend upon public opinion.
That’s good for him because Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular oppose Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale of big sugary sodas in the Big Apple.
The national survey of 1,000 adults was conducted from May 31 to June 1. Just two weeks earlier, a Rasmussen poll of New Yorkers gave Mayor Bloomberg a 60 percent approval rating.
A Marist Poll of New Yorkers found that 53 percent of adults in the Big Apple say the soda ban is a bad idea, versus 42 percent who said it is a good one. Marist completed the survey of 500 New York City adults on June 3.
“It’s evident that people don’t want government telling them what to buy,” the American Beverage Association’s Chris Gindlesperger told Food Safety News. “They are smart enough to make their own choices.”
This time, however, Bloomberg’s plan to ban large sodas does not depend upon players outside of his control. Last year, Bloomberg wanted to ban underprivileged people from using their food stamps – now called SNAP vouchers – from spending them on sugary soda.
That, however, required approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has long resisted limiting the food and beverage choices of the food stamp-dependent population. USDA turned down Bloomberg’s request, much like state and local elected officials have resisted many soda tax proposals.
But the ban on big sugary beverages is something Bloomberg is going to be able to accomplish pretty much all on his own. Already the ground work has been laid with the Big Apple’s May 31st report titled: “Reversing the Epidemic: The New York City Obesity Task Force Plan to Prevent and Control Obesity.”
Eleven top city officials – appointed by Bloomberg – signed off on the menu of proposals to fight fat. The task force was appointed last December.
The report claims obesity is New York City’s “most serious and rapidly growing health problem,” killing 5,800 residents a year. It says being overweight or obese is “now the norm in our city.” Black, Latino and low-income communities are among the hardest hit.
New York has already required posting of calorie counts and meal and vending standards for city agency purchases, issued 1,000 green cart permits for sales of fresh fruits and vegetables, and issued $2 “health bucks” for purchases at farmer’s markets. It is also encouraging walking and biking.
To reverse obesity trends, however, the report calls for numerous other steps, including reducing what it says is an explosion in the sale of large size sugary drinks in the city.
Bloomberg’s next stop for implementing the ban will be the upcoming June meeting of the Board of Health, an 11-member body appointed by the Mayor. New York City’s Board of Health has been around since 1805 when it was formed to combat Yellow Fever.
In the ramp up for that meeting, the Health Department has been collecting statements that have been made in support of Bloomberg’s proposal and posting them on its website.
Among the leaders, public health experts and anti-obesity advocates that have expressed support for the Bloomberg ban are former President Bill Clinton, former Big Apple Mayor Ed Koch and NYU nutrition expert Marion Nestle.
“I know a lot of people think ‘this is a nanny state’ but there are serious problems,” Clinton says. “(Diabetes) is basically too much sugar going into the body; we can’t process it all. So, if you get rid of these giant, full of sugar drinks, and make people have smaller portions, it will help.”
Marion Nestle, the widely read NYU professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, told CBS News: “Something needs to be done, and you can’t just tell people to eat better and move more. If I’m given huge amounts of food, I am going to eat it. Cheers for the Bloomberg administration; they’re really trying to make environmental changes.”
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is quoted on New York City’s website as calling the ban on large sugary drinks “the boldest effort yet to prevent obesity.”
In some sectors of the city, trends suggest that the trend being fought by the ban may already be reversing itself. The city obesity report says that according to its annual telephone survey the number of adults buying one or more sugary drinks may have peaked in 2007 at 44 percent and declined to 36 percent in 2010. Also, there has been a slight decline in the percentage of elementary children who are obese, an improvement seen mostly in white children.
Obesity rates and trends are bleak for most other segments of the population.
Among a couple dozen recommendations, the obesity report notes that the original Coca-Cola bottle size was 6.5 fluid ounces and McDonald’s original drink size was 7 fluid ounces.
“Setting a maximum size for sugary drinks offered and sold in restaurants and other food service establishments is a way we can change the default and help reacquaint New Yorkers with ‘human size’ portions to reduce excessive consumption of sugary drinks,” the report recommends.
Finally, while most New Yorkers may not like the Bloomberg ban, the Marist Poll contains evidence that they do feel fat. Half of the New York men and 57 percent of the women in the Big Apple, when asked about their age and height, said they feel like they should weigh less.
Only 40 percent of men, and 38 percent of women in the city said they felt their weight was “about right.”© Food Safety News