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NYC Health Commissioner Supports Government Regulation of Portion Sizes

Government should impose limits on portion sizes as part of its strategy for combatting America’s obesity epidemic, argues Thomas Farley, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in an article written for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Americans consume many more calories than needed, and the excess is leading to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality,” writes Farley in the piece — published in this week’s issue of JAMA.

More than one-third of adults in the U.S. ages 20 and older are obese, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2007 JAMA study found that obesity is associated with approximately 162,000 excess deaths each year — 120,000 from cardiovascular disease, 15,000 from cancer and 35,000 from other obesity-related conditions.

While the link between physical activity and obesity is still unclear, says Farley, “it is quite clear that this increase in calorie consumption is the major cause of the obesity epidemic.”

That’s why a government cap on portions of “food products that harm the most people” would be an effective strategy for reducing the obesity rate, he argues.

One food category that has been singled out as a leading contributor to obesity-related disease is sugary beverages, which studies have linked directly to weight gain and higher rates of type II diabetes.

Last week the New York City Board of Health approved a proposal to limit the size of sugar-sweetened beverages served at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters to 16 ounces.

The idea of reducing soda consumption either by taxation or portion caps has been met with strong resistance by the beverage industry.

“Singling out one item as the cause of obesity completely misses the mark,” Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association said in a 2010 press release. “If we really want to solve this national public health challenge, we must focus on educating Americans through comprehensive approaches that include nutrition education based in fact and focusing on total diet and exercise – not efforts that are simplistic and will be ineffective.”

Farley includes education in his editorial as one strategy for combatting obesity. While the piece focuses on capping portion sizes of “risky” foods, it also recommends that government encourage industry to cut back on junk food marketing and work to educate consumers on how to make nutritious choices.

“The balanced and most effective approach is for governments to regulate food products that harm the most people, simultaneously encourage food companies to voluntarily produce and market healthful products, and then provide information to consumers in ways that facilitate their choosing healthful products,” he writes.

Farley also addresses New York City’s recent super sized soda ban in the article, noting that “studies strongly suggest that, with a smaller default portion size, most consumers will consume fewer calories. This change will not by itself reverse the obesity epidemic, but it can have a substantial effect on it.”

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    Ahhhh yes…with Nanny Bloomberg’s soda ordinance as precedence the camel’s nose is under the tent and now all foods must be portion controlled by our intrepid food police. We WILL be saved from ourselves. Only in freakin’ Amerika.
    We told ya so.

  • Rita

    School lunch regulations have backfired here at my sons school. There is a steady stream of cars from school to the convenience store for candy bars, drinks, and snacks after school because the kids are hungry. Do we really think limiting drink sizes is an option? My family does not drink pop, but I have a problem with government telling me what I can and cannot purchase with my income. Another example of Big Brother out of control.

  • Mike

    Farley is a Bloomberg puppet who rubber stamps everything the Mayor wants. Bloomberg is not like everyone else. Unfortunately many of us are not rich like Bloombucks. We can’t see into his world because it doesn’t exist for us. He can’t see into our world because it does not exist for him. Never vote a billionaire into office. The Power lure is too great, Romney or Obama are also part of the 1%. Knapsack

  • Mike

    Ok, we now have the food police on full display to be followed shortly by the thought police. Where did my America go? Oh, and by the way, if your caught with a larger “portion than specified” your fine will be $10,000 and 30 days in Bloomberg’s office on a “time out”.
    WE are so stupid.

  • David

    So what will prevent me from ordering two 16 oz beverages?

  • Larry

    Ya that will work,…..anybody thought about the fact people who want more will simply eat addional “portion controll” servings?

  • Carlo Silvestri

    It is stupid. Education is paramount but if people want to kill themselves, I don’t think anything is going to stop them. Freedom of choice, even to do yourself ultimate harm, is paramount.

  • Matt

    Yea but the problem is people doing harm to themselves day in and day out. Health problems ensue and who pays for the healthcare, every other taxpayer. For alot of the folks who are already on public assistance(tax payer dollars)and obese and buying cheap empty calories and sodas. Even if you have a good job and pay for health insurance, your watching your rates climb each year because of the rise in health problems related to obesity in our nation.
    Is it fair to those who dont drink soda or eat excessive amounts of empty calories, and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle to continue to pay more for health insurance because of the further degradation of our owns societies self-induced health problems?
    Check out “Good Food on a Tight Budget”-EWG- Things like this need to be advertised and pushed to educate the general public, we know the perception is that healthy = expensive, that needs major attention to reverse the stigma.
    Smaller volumes of healthy food go alot further than a monster 99c bag of cheese puffs, but our eyes see volume, we need to educate people how are eyes may not be making the best decision. You may be eating an hour after that bag of puffs, versus 4 to 5 hours after a small healthy meal.

  • Greg

    What ever happened to personal responsibility? You can’t fix (regulate)stupid. This is no different than smoking. 50 years after we found out that tobacco was a leading cause of cancer people still choose to smoke. People have to die from something, just quit making everyone else pay for their medical costs.