Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) public health initiative to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces was set to begin on Tuesday — but after a state judge struck down the initiative on Monday, New Yorkers won’t have to relinquish their supersize sodas anytime soon.
The news will likely come as a relief to the New Yorkers who were already preparing to circumvent the city’s ban. Even if the new regulation had gone into effect, there would still have been several ways for soda lovers to get their super size fix — by going to any local convenience store (which wouldn’t have been subjected to the rule because they’re regulated by the state), by crossing state lines into New Jersey, or simply buying several smaller-sized sodas at once.
The judge’s opinion cites those loopholes as one his primary reasons for striking down the law, since he believed the “uneven enforcement” throughout the city rendered the regulation ineffective. But even though Bloomberg’s proposal wasn’t perfect, it was on the right track.
As an increasing body of research has tied the consumption of sugary drinks to obesity, public efforts like Bloomberg’s represent one small step toward reorienting a culture where portion sizes have continued to spiral out of control. Restaurants’ portion sizes are more than four times larger now than they were in the 1950s — and that culture of excess is making its way into Americans’ homes, too, where meals are also getting bigger. Soft drinks sizes specifically have seen one of the largest increases, ballooning by over 50 percent since the mid-1970s. And research suggests that larger portion sizes do lead people to consume more than they would have otherwise, since we tend to estimate calories with our eyes rather than our stomachs.
The average American child consumes about 270 calories from soft drinks each day, which adds up to U.S. children drinking about 7 trillion calories from soda each year. That’s a huge problem in the larger context of childhood obesity rates, which have tripled since 1980. But there’s evidence that innovative public health measures can pay off. After all, states with aggressive nutrition policies, which include limits on sugary drinks and fried foods in public schools cafeterias, have experienced decreases in their childhood obesity rates.
The impact of sugary drinks on the ongoing obesity epidemic, and how best to encourage Americans to make healthier choices, is one that health advocates continue to grapple with, and there’s general consensus that proposals like Bloomberg’s are worth a shot. Beverage manufacturers, on the other hand, remain largely resistant to addressing their role in the public health crisis. The New York mayor’s soda ban was unanimously approved by the city’s health board in September — while the soda industry, which claimed the loophole-ridden policy was an affront to consumer freedom, became its loudest critic.