New York’s highest court declined on Thursday to reinstate former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on large sugary drinks, essentially ensuring that the policy is dead. The ban wasn’t actually in effect because it had already been blocked by lower court decisions.
Thursday’s ruling is a blow to city officials and some public health advocates, who hoped the court would overturn a previous ruling that prevented the policy from taking effect. But Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of the State Court of Appeals determined that the regulations, which would have banned restaurants from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, were beyond the “scope of regulatory authority” of the health board.
The soda ban was just one of many aggressive public health policies championed by Bloomberg, who also focused on regulating tobacco products and encouraging more people to exercise during his time in office. New York City’s health commissioner noted in a statement that the current administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio will continue to seek other ways “to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods.”
Public health experts agree that sugary drinks, which have been linked to up to 180,000 annual deaths around the world, directly contribute to the global obesity epidemic. Research has found that people who regularly consume sugary drinks are more likely to be overweight, more likely to struggle with diabetes, and more likely to have heart disease. New York City’s proposed policy also reflected the fact that, as portion sizes continue to grow larger and encourage people to consume more, soft drinks sizes specifically have ballooned by more than 50 percent since the mid-1970s.
But not everyone believed that Bloomberg’s regulation on supersize sodas was the right way to tackle the issue. Some advocates pointed out that there were enough loopholes in the regulation to cause it to backfire — after all, the New Yorkers intent on consuming more than 16 ounces of soda at once could have simply bought several smaller-sized sodas at the same time. Some public health experts would rather go straight to the source and convince the FDA to regulate how much sugar is allowed to make its way into beverages in the first place.
Despite the fact that it didn’t actually go into effect, Bloomberg’s attempted soda ban did spark a larger conversation about sugary drinks, effective nutrition policies, and the outsized influence of big food corporations.
“Communities across the country are taking steps to reign in the excesses of companies that put profits over health,” the Prevention Institute, a nonprofit group focusing on policies to safeguard public health, said in a statement in response to Thursday’s ruling. “Every day there is news of a hospital or school that is kicking sugary drinks out of their vending machines, a city that wants to put an excise tax on soda to fund prevention, or a state working to put warning labels on the beverages that are fueling the chronic disease crisis.”
On the other hand, it also inspired some backlash. Mississippi — a state with one of the highest obesity rates in the country — approved an “anti-Bloomberg” bill last year specifically to prevent countries from enacting any regulations on food and drink products.