The Fizzy Math Behind Bloomberg's Soda Ban

New York City's proposed ban on sodas greater than 16 ounces rests on shaky premises. But proponents think those trump “trivial issues of personal freedom”.

On Tuesday the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene will hold a public hearing on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale in the city of sweetened beverages greater than 16 ounces. The ban would impact drinks containing sugar or any other “caloric sweetener,” which could include everything from a 20 ounce bottle of soda sold by a food truck or cart to a soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup sold by a fast food restaurant to an iced tea sweetened with honey sold by a baseball-park vendor.

I’ll be speaking in opposition to the ban at the hearing—on behalf of the members and supporters of the nonprofit I lead, Keep Food Legal—for two main reasons. First, the ban would restrict food freedom of choice. In this way it’s no different than several other New York City food-related bans dreamt up by Mayor Bloomberg’s administration that I noted in an earlier Reason column on the soda ban. A partial list of these bans includes a proposal to restrict new tavern licenses, a suggested ban on happy hours, a ban on food donations to homeless shelters, an attempt to limit restaurants' use of salt, and a trans fat ban.

The second reason the ban is a bad idea is that it rests on bad assumptions. It’s this latter argument that particularly interests me here.

For one, the justification for the proposed rule appears to rest largely on a claim that Americans are obese because we “consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks.” But nothing in the one citation on which that claim is based, a 2005 article in the Annual Review of Public Health, directly supports this bold claim.

Rather, the authors of that study looked at the results of five earlier studies that showed “caloric intake rose by roughly 12% (300 calories per day) between 1985 and 2000, mainly because of increased consumption of grains, added fats, and added sugars.”

The closest the researchers get to validating the basis of the New York City health department's proposed rule is when they note an “increased consumption of carbohydrates” in the form of “fruit and soft drinks, [which] are also responsible for a surprising number of calories.” But the authors then immediately cite other research that pegs “increased snacking” (with no mention of soda) as the main factor behind increased caloric intake. What’s more, the ARPH authors conclude that neither soda nor sugar nor carbohydrates but “technology may be primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic.”

Other ban opponents have also cited data that throws the entire basis and purpose of the proposed ban into question.

“From 1999 to 2010, full-calorie soda sales declined 12.5% while obesity rates went up,” notes New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group that opposes the ban. “According to the CDC, added sugars consumed from sugar sweetened beverages are down 39% thanks in part to more low- and zero-calorie choices.”

The ban does have its supporters. But the comments the Mayor’s office has posted so far trumpeting support for the ban are informative.

One commenter, Rowan University Prof. Lawrence Weisberg, MD, claims the positive impact the ban will have will far outweigh “trivial issues of personal freedom” the ban raises.

Another commenter, Dr. Joseph Vassalotti of the National Kidney Foundation, refers only to the Mayor’s general campaign against obesity and doesn’t mention the soda ban at all—nor, indeed, does Vassalotti mention beverages. And the National Kidney Foundation (nor anyone else, for that matter) apparently didn’t even see fit to tout the statement at its own website. 

Others supporting the ban include filmmaker Spike Lee (who argues, among other things, that “[c]hildren today in public schools across the country are not being taught art”), author Eric Schlosser (“Soda isn't food.”), and Jamie Oliver (“[W]e are way past the point where can trust people to make better choices. We have to help them make better choices.”).

Other data provided by the city health department in support of the ban doesn’t exactly build a case for it. For example, according to a chart featured in a recent health department presentation in support of the proposed ban, a 16 ounce large soda has not been the norm at McDonald’s since the 1960s—well before obesity rates began to climb in America.

With all the evidence against the ban, one would think ban opponents would have at least a fighting chance to halt the ban in its tracks. But some aren’t so sure.

“When it's been pre-decreed by Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley and the hearing board members are all, well, on board, let alone full of Bloomberg[] appointees, then what we have is a theatrical production, not a hearing,” writes Audrey Silk at the Huffington Post. Silk argues that the hearing is just keeping up appearances for what she says will follow—rubber-stamp legislating by an unelected board of Bloomberg appointees.

Is this all a big Kabuki dance? I hope not. And I’ll be disappointed if it is. And I'll probably be in need of some liquid refreshment.

Luckily New York City still has many such places offering sustenance to weary travelers. And at one such place, the acclaimed Northern Spy restaurant in the East Village, Keep Food Legal will be holding a happy hour (beer, wine, and cocktail specials!) and soda salon following the public hearing on Tuesday.

“Northern Spy is proud to host the Keep Food Legal Happy Hour because we believe in a robust and open debate on food policy and access issues,” says co-owner Christophe Hille. "We think that any time one group in a position of power dictates limits on what another group may consume, it's worth at least being skeptical.”

Learn more about the happy hour and soda salon here. After all, you're invited. And as an added incentive, we’ll be giving away one $50 gift certificate to Northern Spy to a random Keep Food Legal member (existing or new) in attendance.

If you can't make it to the happy hour and you’d like to submit comments of your own related to the proposed soda ban—something Keep Food Legal will be doing—you may do so here before Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom—the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    There is a revolting dictatorial stripe in many do-gooders which is why most of them turn gleefully to the enforcement power of government to violently impose their will upon others.

  • hk||

    What's more disgusting is that they think they own people.

    If I ever go to NYC I'll make sure to buy two small sodas. :)

    I don't drink that much coke but it seems to me that this is a regressive tax on poor people too.

  • Father Jack||

    Feck Bloomingidiotburg and the backs of the oppressed he rode in on.

  • Brutus||

    "The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it." - Mencken

  • ||

    Stripe? It's a core part of their being.

  • Anacreon||

    Why is the hearing by the Department of Mental Health? Is the major concern caloric impact on the brain?

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Why is the hearing by the Department of Mental Health? Is the major concern caloric impact on the brain?

    When they decided obesity was a matter of "bad eating habits" and "eating disorders," it became a matter for psychiatry. That's one of the great dangers of ignoring the actual underlying biochemistry of human behaviors.

  • ||

    "See this bitch right here? I want to ban her too!"

  • hk||

    Yeah, Spike Lee is a perennial d-bag.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Good luck at the hearing.

    I rarely consume more than 12 ounces of beverage at a time, but fuck it, if somebody else is thirsty enough to drink a liter of cola, why should I want to stop him?

  • Rich||

    For his own good?

    /Nanny

  • Generic Stranger||

    Litrecola? Do they sell litrecola?

  • Rich||

    Lawrence Weisberg, MD, claims the positive impact the ban will have will far outweigh "trivial issues of personal freedom"

    Jamie Oliver ("[W]e are way past the point where can trust people to make better choices. We have to help them make better choices.").

    These guys are just *begging* to be smacked by "Me today, you tomorrow."

  • Metazoan||

    Metazoan, Reason Commenter, claims the positive impact of enslaving Lawrence Weisberg, MD to provide medical care for the poor at minimum wage will far outweigh trivial issues of personal freedom.

  • Brutus||

    Larry needs to feel the pointed end of "the common good" for a few months.

  • Voros McCracken||

    Charlie Brooker's takedown of Jamie Oliver is enjoyable.

  • Brutus||

    Beautiful

  • Killazontherun||

    I hope every kid in England is aware of who is responsible for their already miserably bad cafeteria food being even less edible than that consumed by the generations that preceded them. In a just world, there would not be a street Oliver walks in England that didn't mete out a good sound thrashing and ass kicking.

  • Brutus||

    In Heaven:

    Government is Swiss
    Police are British
    Food is Italian
    Women are French
    Cars are German

    In Hell:

    Government is Italian
    Police are German
    Food is British
    Women are Swiss
    Cars are French

  • Ted S.||

    In Hell:

    Women are Swiss

    Ursula Andress says hello.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Yeah, I think I'd take Swiss women over French women. Also, fuck Italian food. Give me East Asian food.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Yeah, I think I'd take Swiss women over French women.

    I briefly dated a French woman in college who had a bad habit of thinking in Metric units (centimeters), then speaking in English units (inches) without converting. The Summer after my Sophomore year she said something about me that made me a very popular man with the women in our crowd.

  • Killazontherun||

    The kid Oliver harasses in that video should have started yelling, 'stranger danger!'

  • BakedPenguin||

  • ||

    I really don't think these people think at all.

    Spike Lee. That's rich. An artist calling for a ban on personal choices.

    Fuck me.

  • ||

    Salt has no relation to high blood pressure.

    Trans fats are bad (but no one's business of course) but were pushed on us by the govt when they went to war against coconut oil on popcorn and the always healthy saturated fats.

  • ||

    The saturated fat myth will take a long time dying, if it ever does. People love demonizing what's enjoyable way too much to give up going: "OMG bacon and eggs!!1! SOOO sinful!!1!!!11"

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Salt has no relation to high blood pressure.

    Yeah, I saw that meta-analysis: 1.1/0.6 difference.

  • Killazontherun||

    “[W]e are way past the point where can trust people to make better choices. We have to help them make better choices.”

    The bases of you making my choices for me are you have a cooking show? That you are a celebrity? Don't make me puke and then have your bitch ass clean it up.

  • Brutus||

    When seduction fails, there's always rape.

  • ||

    And what's with all these British chefs telling us how and what to eat anyway?

    Oliver is all wet that in Italy and France the kids eat like champs and wants to bring that to North America.

  • Metazoan||

    Also this looks like a pretty cool happy hour.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Give 'em hell, Baylen.

  • Mordiac||

    Maybe banning the Bloomberg Channel would be get people off their coaches and exercising more. Also banning Bloomberg Magazine could also contribute to increased activity as people would read less. Perhaps all cities in the US should look into this carefully. :)

  • Mordiac||

    Spell check...couch

  • wT||

    I thought this was an 18th Century reference.

  • ||

    Yahoo: The Negative Effects of Soda

    High-fructose corn syrup is used to sweeten many American soda brands. This harmful man-made ingredient is derived from genetically engineered corns. Since it has been less than a decade since genetic engineering was discovered, we don't know what long-term effects it will have on human beings. New research supports that genetic engineering causes increased aging, digestive tract damage and infertility.

    http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy.....00972.html

  • Metazoan||

    Wow that article is weapons-grade uncited. Flame retardants are made from... GASP! chemicals!!! Oh noez!!! Just like...everything else?

    And just where is this research about GM crops? Where are the peer-reviewed studies?

  • Brutus||

    HFCS was first produced in 1957, long before corn was subject to genetic engineering.

  • Brutus||

    This site: http://www.science.anth.org.uk/ifgene/history.htm says corn was first genetically engineered in 1988. It seems that most commercially-viable GM crops were available after 1994. So what did the HFCS folks do for 37 years?

  • The Fatman||

    Corn EXISTS because of genetic engineering. Except a thousand years ago it was called SELECTIVE BREEDING. The original corn plant is a fucking grass. Without mans help corn as we know would cease to exist. These people are weapons grade morons.

  • Mordiac||

    Corn syrup is only used because of the Sugar Lobby in the US keeps sugar prices so high. Other countries sweeten with the real thing. You should try a sugar flavored coke sometime.

  • The Fatman||

    ^^^This^^^ A friend of mine gets coke imported from Mexico because his kids like the sugar sweetening better than the crap they sell in 'merica.

  • Moogle||

    There's Mountain Dew out now with regular sugar, and a couple other sodas are doing this now. Sierra Mist, I think?

  • Rhywun||

    I had some "special edition" sugared Dew (in the original hillbilly packaging) last year - it tasted really weird to me. Yeah and the Sierra Mist with sugar too.

  • Moogle||

    Oh, and I don't think Hansen's ever stopped using real sugar. Love their grapefruit soda.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    OMFG Hansen's grapefruit soda is delicious! Actually all of their beverages are delicious.

  • 1955||

    Look for yellow cap Coke around Passover, corn isn't kosher during Passover so you get sugar instead. I believe Pepsi puts a white cap on their Passover formula.

  • Anacreon||

    I thought most coke came in through Mexico.

  • mybarber||

    This same man wants to ban many guns ,yet walks around with armed guards.He wants to tell you what to eat and drink.Won't allow you to smoke or do drugs.Wants his cops to pat down anyone any time and have you rely on the armed state for 'protection".Reminds me of someone.

  • The Fatman||

    Wait until he trys to creat the perfect human through a "pure blood breeding program".

  • Moogle||

    Has anyone followed the money on this one yet? Someone, somewhere benefits from this ban financially, and Bloomberg is wither one of them or their sock puppet.

  • SIV||

    The 16 oz cup industry? Big Dehydration, Pedia-lite, and the saline IV manufacturers association?

  • Brutus||

    Just another tentacle of the Kochtopus...The Boys own Dixie Cup.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    That's an interesting point, kupo!

  • Robert||

    With a comment like that, why aren't you selling anything?

  • LarryA||

    “[W]e are way past the point where can trust people to make better choices. We have to help them make better choices.”

    Half true. I'm way past the point where I trust Bloomberg et al to "help" me.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    “From 1999 to 2010, full-calorie soda sales declined 12.5% while obesity rates went up,” notes New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a group that opposes the ban. “According to the CDC, added sugars consumed from sugar sweetened beverages are down 39% thanks in part to more low- and zero-calorie choices.”

    Remember Pavlov's dogs? Ringing a bell made them salivate. It made them release insulin too.
    Guess what happens when you taste something sweet? You release insulin.
    Insulin lowers your blood glucose level. Where did it go? To the fat!

  • wT||

    ++

  • ||

    Glucose-fructose is poison but let the market figure that out. Just don't consume to much of it I suggest.

    And don't tell me consumers can't command change on what we eat without the helping hand of the state. For example,two companies here in Canada - Maple Leaf and Schneiders - now sell all sorts of outstanding healthy alternatives on ham, bacon, sausages, chicken etc.

    The ingredients are leaps and bounds better than what we've seen in the past. The packaging is better and the taste is fantastic.

    I don't recall people like Bloomberg crusading demanding such changes. I just think the companies were smart enough to notice the market's changing tastes and habits. Everyone knows health is in - as it should be.

    Leave the excessive, paranoid, nanny-stating to people like Tony who pretend to profess they know what's best for the person next to them.

  • Mordiac||

    What if I have a 60oz diet coke? Is that going to be illegal in NY too?

  • Anacreon||

    nope, they said that will be "OK"

  • Audrey Silk||

    Many thanks to Baylen for the mention. I'd like to take this opportunity to elaborate on my position about boycotting the hearing. My opinion is more than that. It's based on personal experience in several instances, beginning with the 2002 hearings over the then-proposed bar,etc. ban where they held an unprecedented THREE hearings on the matter that attracted a huge turnout by industry and private citizens alike, plus many experts. Sounds like serious business, right? My org. even enjoyed private meetings with Gifford Miller who was the Council Speaker then AND two with current Speaker Christine Quinn who was chair of the health committee then. During our testimony on the last hearing date we submitted 6000 petition signatures that we collected in two weeks. Not only did they toss them aside as if they didn't exist but do you know what everyone heard from Quinn the day of the vote? "No one objected [to the ban]." (I still have the video on tape to prove it).

    (cont...)

  • Audrey Silk||

    (cont...) Since then I've participated in two other smoking-related hearings held by council committees and the trans fat ban held by the DOH. One of those smoking-related hearings earned me a private invitation by the DOH to participate. Yes, they reached out to ME. It was after the trans fat ban that it finally sunk in that this was all for show. That previous invitation was motivated not by sought after genuine fairness but to create a perception of such. I was a pawn.

    However, my org gave one last try during the committee hearing on the park/beach ban. This was my closing statement there and my closing statement here:

    "Approve this and soon I’ll be here again testifying against your plan to ban smoking in homes. Well I don’t think so. This is where we draw the line. It’s time to flip the script."

    (read full testimony at http://www.nycclash.com/Testim.....101410.doc)

    As you all know, they did (approve it).

    And what do you think happened next? Bloomberg proposed a multi-unit dwelling smoking policy bill that no doubt will be followed by a full legislated ban.

    Testify? I don't think so.

    Founder, NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.)

  • Audrey Silk||

    *correction - One of those smoking-related hearings earned me a private invitation by the council [not DOH]...

  • ||

    ng number of calories.” But the authors then immediately cite other research that pegs “increased snacking” (with no mention of soda) as the main factor behind increased caloric intake. What’s more, the ARPH authors conclude that http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei.....-c-29.html neither soda nor sugar nor carbohydrates but “technology may be primarily responsible for the obesity epid

  • Bill Occam||

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement