NYC Board of Health Ponders Bloomberg's Big Beverage Ban

Today the New York City Board of Health is holding a public hearing on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal for a 16-ounce cap on servings of sugar-sweetened beverages sold by restaurants, movie theaters, food carts, and concession stands. In a conveniently timed letter to The New England Journal of Medicine, three public health researchers at NYU estimate that the restriction could reduce consumption per meal in fast food restaurants by up to 63 calories. That's assuming everyone drinks a single 16-ounce serving, rather than buying a second drink or taking advantage of free refills at self-serve beverage stations. The smaller the share of customers who stop at 16 ounces, of course, the smaller the reduction in calories; if 70 percent disregard Bloomberg's beverage boundary, the researchers calculate, the decrease will no longer be statistically significant, and at 80 percent it becomes a statistically significant increase.

Deeming that kind of revolt improbable, the authors conclude that "the policy appears to be associated with a decrease in calories from sugar-sweetened beverages purchased at fast-food restaurants." Even if we accept that conclusion, of course, the big beverage ban won't necessarily reduce total calorie intake. Diners deprived of their usual extra-large soda may be more inclined to buy dessert, for instance, or they might make up the difference at some other point in the day—not difficult to do, as Bloomberg emphasizes, given all the loopholes in his plan (e.g., for milk-based beverages, fruit juices, and sugar-sweetened drinks purchased from stores or vending machines, not to mention all manner of fattening solid food).

The lead author of the NEJM letter, Brian Elbel, is scheduled to present his findings at today's hearing. Here are some of the people the Board of Health has heard from so far:

  • Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who emphasized that the soda serving ceiling "is not a ban” but rather "a limitation on the container size." Doesn't that make it a ban on servings bigger than the prescribed size?
  • Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services, who described how the obesity "epidemic" is "ravaging" the city.
  • David R. Jones, chief executive of the Community Service Society of New York, who condemned soft drink companies for selling "worthless items to poor communities."
  • City Councilman Dan Halloran, City Councilwoman Letitia James, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, all three of whom spoke against the plan. "When they came for the cigarettes," Halloran said, "I didn't say anything, because I didn’t smoke. When they came for the MSG, I didn’t say anything because I don't eat it very often." Yikes.
  • Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living at the National Restaurant Association, who testified that "added sugars, including sugar-sweetened beverages, are no more likely to cause weight gain than other sources of calories." She called Bloomberg's proposal a "paternalistic" scheme that will produce nothing but "a false sense of accomplishment." 
  •  Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who argued that "portraying a vitally important health initiative as an assault on consumers' rights is simply distracting." Jacobson's group was inveighing against "liquid candy" long before Bloomberg took up the cause.
  • Vanessa Lockel of the American Beverage Association, who complained that the mayor's pint-size prescription "is distracting us from real issues, from real programs that actually help with regard to obesity."

The New York Times, the source of these quotes, is live-blogging the hearing and has more here. The board, which is supposed to vote on the proposed rule in September, consists entirely of Bloomberg appointees, so the outcome seems like a foregone conclusion. "Compared to smoking," Bloomberg told reporters yesterday, "this is an easy battle to win, and nobody’s going to stop this."

More on Bloomberg's big beverage ban, including complaints from Board of Health members who say it does not fo far enough, here.

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  • Translucent Chum||

    Don't care unless he ordered a soda larger than 16oz.

  • Translucent Chum||

    Aww. Now my comment doesn't make any sense.

  • Translucent Chum||

    I demand the mods change my now first comment to say Frist!

  • ||

    That kind of glibness automatically puts you on TEAM FUCKBUDDY.

  • T||

    Pick a better ex-senator to immortalize in the first comment, would you?

  • T||

    But the indenting remains, so you responded to something.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No, he didn't.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Reason needs to work on their unpersoning.

  • Paul.||

    Damnit... who got unpersoned? I missed the early thread minutes!

  • SugarFree||

    Someone (gee, I wonder who?) posting John's name again. This was the second handle it got banned under today. It's going for a third in the surveillance thread.

  • Tulpa the White||

    No one was unpersoned. They did not exist.

  • SugarFree||

    What's the matter, Tulpa? Is it a sobering glimpse into your eventual fate?

  • ||

    Who are you talking to, NutraSweet? I've never heard of a "Tulpa".

  • Tulpa the White||

    I know they'll fail. Something in this world...some spirit they will never overcome...

  • Tulpa the White||

    I guess sharing my super secret brown note plot with John was a mistake then.

  • playa manhattan||

    "When they came for the MSG, I didn’t say anything because I don't eat it very often."

    Shame, I use it all the time for home cooking, plus some MSG enhancers...

  • T||

    What's an MSG enhancer? Is that like putting salt on your salt?

  • Lord Humungus||

    it's like bacon squared.

  • Jerry on the road||

    You put the salt in the bacon and eat them both up.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Leave my sex life out of this.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Plutonium.

  • playa manhattan||

  • playa manhattan||

    Although the wiki says it is used in things like potato chips, it is also a common ingredient in the broth used to make Beef Phô (if the restaurant is authentic Vietnamese).
    Also, this one:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disodium_guanylate

  • T||

    I have learned something today. Thank you for your contribution to my knowledge.

    I'm off to see where I can buy some.

  • mr simple||

    What about the people who normally would get, say, a 22oz soda and are now getting the 16oz, getting a refill, a probably finishing it because why waste soda? Someone should do a study on the number of refills, etc. I smell grant money.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Doesn't that make it a ban on servings bigger than the prescribed size?

    No. "Ban" means the substance itself is banned in any quantity.

    Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services, who described how the obesity "epidemic" is "ravaging" the city.

    So when a fatty bites you you become fat?

    I like the fast fatty movies better than the slow fatty ones.

  • ||

    You would.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Elitist.

    And weightist.

  • T||

    Fast fatties make no logical sense. You can't accelerate that much mass that quickly.

  • Translucent Chum||

    Slowing it down is the problem.

  • T||

    Walls. The adipose tissue cushions the impact.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Until you've been brained by one, you have no idea how fleet-footed a fatty can be.

  • Paul.||

    I thought we were leaving your sex life out of this.

  • Tulpa the White||

    ewwwwwww

  • R C Dean||

    No. "Ban" means the substance itself is banned in any quantity.

    Only if he referred to a "ban on servings", period.

    As it is, I'm hard-pressed to see how you can get a serving larger than 16 ounces in NYC. So I'm comfortable saying its a ban.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Go back for a refill and you get a 32 oz serving.

  • JW||

    What if you got it to go? Then it's a ban.

    That's akin to saying that since you don't lock your basement door, the vitims you have hog-tied in your basement aren't really being held hostage, since can leave whenever they want.

  • Paul.||

    Wouldn't it then be a tax?

  • Tulpa the White||

    They can't leave if they're tied up.

  • ||

    No, you get two 16oz servings.

    /pedant

  • Metazoan||

    Of course, someone should point out that this is bad for the environment- more container material is being used.

  • Libertarian||

    Actually, "restaurants, movie theaters, and food carts" doesn't include convenience stores, right? 7-11 can still sell whatever they want.

    BTW, I wish the NY idiots who put this guy in office, over and over, would keep him off the national airwaves - I didn't vote for him and I don't want to hear what he has to say. Brooklyn, Brooklyn, let him in.

  • Brutus||

    But they get winded in, like, 20 yards.

  • JD the elder||

    Once again, I would like to apologize for Bloomberg. There are plenty of us here in NYC who hate him; not sure who all his idiot supporters are. It's a sad day when the mayor makes you think maybe Giuliani wasn't all that bad.

  • Metazoan||

    Present (NYer who can't stand bloomberg). I really do think it's an awareness issue, not sure how to fix that though.

  • albo||

    the soda serving ceiling "is not a ban” but rather "a limitation on the container size."

    Your liberty to drink whatever size beverage you like is not "infringed," it's just "resting, like a tired Norwegian blue parrot."

  • Mainer2||

    Lovely plumage, the Norwegian blue.

  • Paul.||

    This will pass. That is all.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    A story a couple weeks ago reminded me that, health fascists that they are, the local health departments are running out of money. So keep it up cowboys. Who's going to enforce all your pissant regs when you're all working at Arbys?
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....workforce/

  • Paul.||

    Taxes on the rich.

  • Paul.||

    Back in the early 2000s, five full-time staff members worked on smoking cessation in Worcester. Just last year, there was money enough to go around to all 600 tobacco sellers in the area, to make sure they were complying with city regulations and not selling to teens.

    This year, Johnson had the budget to visit 300 stores. The rest, she says, “just didn’t get checked.”

    This is a health department function which should exist. At all. I weep for no one.

  • Brutus||

    Here's a crazy-ass idea: How about public health departments focus on public health risks like mosquito suppression and sanitation?

  • Bryan C||

    "Jacobson's group was inveighing against "liquid candy" long before Bloomberg took up the cause."

    Tyranny: It's as easy as taking candy from a baby.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Now, literally taking candy from a baby!

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Rumor has it Rumor has it Rumor has it
    Rumor has it Bloomberg's sticking pie up his ass.

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