Milken Institute School of Public Health
Gillings School of Global Public Health
In an effort to reduce levels of obesity in the city, the New York City Board of Health recently gave its approval for a ban on large soda sales at restaurants, movie theaters, street carts and other venues. This is the first restriction of its kind in the US.
This new public health measure was touted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The measure has intensified the debate in the country about how sugary soft drinks and other beverages contribute to obesity. It also may cause other cities to pass similar public health measures. This is despite the fact that the new law is highly controversial and has been met with ridicule in some quarters.
According to Bloomberg, the soda ban is the ‘biggest step any city…has ever taken to curb obesity.’ The measure bans the sale of many types of sugared drinks in containers that are bigger than 16 ounces. The rule will take effect on March 12, 2013, unless a judge blocks it.
The US soft drink industry has lobbied hard against the soda ban and is vowing to fight it in court. The companies state that the measure could cause many businesses to lose money on sales. Also, the ban would reduce consumers’ freedoms to buy the drinks that they want.
The soft drink industry’s positions did not help them them in front of the Board of Health. The vote was 8-0 to approve the ban. According to one of the board members, given that obesity kills thousands of people per year due to related health problems, the board did the right thing to enact the ban. This is because of the strong evidence that connects obesity and the consumption of regular soda and other sugary drinks.
Another board member, Dr. Deepthiman Gowda, stated that he realized that the public had doubts about the new law, but he believes that the law is justified. Having personally seen the effects of extreme obesity in his patients, he believes the soda ban is a positive public health action.
Interestingly, only establishments that are subject to inspection grades from the health department, such as movie theaters, fast food restaurants and stadium concession stands, are subject to the new rule. Most convenience stores are exempt.
The new restrictions do not have any effect on fruit juices, milkshakes or alcoholic beverages. Diet sodas also are not affected.
Is the soda ban a good idea? It seems that government can always come up with another law or rule ‘for the good of the public health.’ It does not seem very likely that such a law would have much effect, and perhaps the city government should focus more on providing essential services efficiently than on such laws.