A small soda at McDonalds is about to become the largest option available in New York City if a proposal to limit sugary drink portion sizes is passed by the city’s health board.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which has made public health a central part of its agenda, announced Thursday that it is seeking a 16 oz. cap on sugar-sweetened drinks served at delis, fast food and sit-down restaurants, movie theaters and sports venues.
This latest rule would follow past city regulations that have mandated calorie labeling on all chain restaurant menus and banned artificial trans fats from food establishments.
According to the New York City Health Department, sugary drinks are a main contributor to the city’s obesity problem. Nearly 6 in 10 NYC residents are either overweight or obese. High sugary drink consumption is associated with weight gain, obesity and higher rates of diabetes in New York City, says a 2011 report by four district health offices.
The sugary drink limit requires approval from the New York City Board of Health, which is set to vote on it June 12.
Bloomberg touted the plan as a positive step desired by News York City residents.
“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” Bloomberg said in a Wednesday interview with the New York Times. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
This new limit will require a significant paring down of soda offerings at many restaurants. A 16 oz. portion is the equivalent of a “small” at McDonald’s or a “regular” cup at Burger King. Soda in this amount usually contains around 150 calories, all from sugar. Movie theater drink cups are currently 22 oz., usually holding over 300 calories.
Diet sodas would still be permitted in larger quantities since they contain little to no sugar.
The NYC proposal also applies to other sugared beverages, such as fruit drinks and flavored milk, shakes, or alcoholic beverages, which must also be limited to 16 oz. if the measure passes.
The move is being criticized by the beverage industry as overstepping control over consumer choice and as putting unfair blame on soda as such a large contributor to obesity.
“The people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Health Department believes,” said Coca-Cola in a statement Thursday. “We are transparent with our consumers. They can see exactly how many calories are in every beverage we serve. We have prominently placed calorie counts on the front of our bottles and cans and in New York City, restaurants already post the calorie content of all their offerings and portion sizes — including soft drinks.
“New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase. We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate.”
The New York City Beverage Association also weighed in against the proposal: “There they go again. The New York City Health Department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” said Stefan Friedman, spokesman for NYBA in a statement Thursday. “The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer watchdog group, praised the move.
“Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pioneering proposal to limit serving sizes of sugary drinks is the boldest effort yet to prevent obesity, which is not only painful for millions of Americans but is costing our nation upwards of $150 billion in higher health costs annually,” said CSPI’s executive director Micheal Jacobson in a Thursday press release.
“New York City’s health department deserves tremendous credit for recognizing the harm that sugary soft drinks cause in the form of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – and for doing something about it. We hope other city and state public health officials adopt similar curbs on serving sizes and reducing Americans’ exposure to these nutritionally worthless products.”
This is not the first time soda has been targeted as a primary contributor to the American obesity epidemic. Some school districts have banned soft drinks, and certain cities have banned the drinks on government premises.