by Marion Nestle
Jun 1 2012

Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban proposal hits the wall

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a ban on sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, sports arenas, and movie theaters.

The reactions have been ferocious, and not only from the soda industry, which placed this ad in today’s Times.

The New York Times also weighed in with an editorial arguing that the mayor has now gone too far and should be sticking to educational strategies.

Alas.  If only educational strategies worked.  But they do not.

We know this from what it took to discourage people from smoking cigarettes.  We also know this from research on eating behavior.  This shows that it doesn’t take much to get people to eat too much.

Just barrage us with advertising, put food within arm’s reach, make food available 24/7, make it cheap, and serve it in enormous portions.

Faced with this kind of food environment, education doesn’t stand a chance.

That’s the point the Mayor’s proposal is trying to address, however clumsily.  After all, a 16-ounce soda is two servings.

Sugary drinks—especially large ones—make sense as a target for a portion size intervention.

  • They have calories but no nutrients (“liquid candy”).
  • The larger the serving size, the more calories they contain.
  • They are widely consumed, often to the extent of hundreds and sometimes thousands of calories a day.
  • Research links them to obesity (people who habitually consume sugary drinks tend to have worse diets and weigh more than those who don’t).
  • People tend to drink the amount that is in the container.

The sugary drink industries have much to answer for their role in obesity promotion.

  • They put billions of dollars into advertising, much of it directed to children and minority groups.
  • They lobby Congress and federal agencies to prevent laws and regulations that might affect sales.
  • They co-opt health organizations to neutralize criticism (hence: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ advice to focus on “education and moderation”)
  • They attack public health professionals who advise “don’t drink your calories.”
  • They attack the science and make it appear confusing (see the above ad which does not mention studies that show otherwise).
  • They price drinks to favor the largest size servings; an 8-ounce soft drink costs much more per ounce than a 2-liter bottle.

If the Beverage Association really wanted to help Americans eat more healthfully, it could change all of those practices.

The Mayor is committed to improving the health of New Yorkers and is trying to figure out ways to do that.

Beverage companies are interested in one thing and one thing only: the financial health of beverage companies.  And they have convinced many Americans that the financial health of beverage companies trumps public health.

Education?  I’m for it if it’s focused on educating the public how beverage companies really operate.

Addition: The New York City Health Department has been collecting endorsements from public officials and health advocates and is posting them online. I’m in good company.

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  • http://www.marystod.blogspot.com/ Mary Nash Stoddard

    Why limit the ban to just regular sodas? Diet Soda w/Aspartame also causes paradoxical weight gains in testing. (Framingham Study for the American Heart Assn., pub. in Circulation Magazine.) Authors of the study were baffled as to the reasons it seemed to make no difference whether participants in their study drank regular or diet drinks. Aspartame in so-called ‘diet,’ ‘lo-cal,’ ‘sugarfree,’ etc. can cause weight gain. Newest version of the Aspartame sweetener, Neotame, is being added to cattle feed now to ‘Fatten’ cattle before slaughter. Trade name: tm “Sweetos.” Look around. Are Diabetics, who use exclusively sugar substitutes, really among the thinnest people you know? — Mary Nash Stoddard/author Deadly Deception Story of Aspartame (Odenwald Press ’98)

  • http://www.marystod.blogspot.com/ Mary Nash Stoddard

    For those wanting more info on Diet Drinks & Weight Gain: Press Release & Framingham Study URL. http://marystod.blogspot.com/2010/08/acsn-press-release-re-framingham-study.html

  • http://www.FeedYourHeadDiet.com Ken Leebow

    It would be nice to think that not allowing an over-sized soda would solve the problem. However, it won’t.

    Most Americans are on The Main Street Diet … http://www.themainstreetdiet.com … It’s poisonous and addictive.

    You can tell that to people until you are “blue in the face” and most will still ignore the information.

    The Main Street Diet is very potent. To make a change people will need to be highly motivated to move toward a healthy lifestyle.

    Ironically, the benefits of leaving Main Street are enormous. But, you can’t appreciate it until you do it.

    Ken Leebow
    http://NoAchesNoPainsNoMedsNoDocs.com

  • TJ

    Of course there is backlash. This idea of government mandated portion sizes is disturbing to people all over the political spectrum. We need to work with financial incentives (taxes, healthy food subsidies etc.) to reduce sugar consumption, not try to intervene in people’s personal lives.

    I can just see the professional nutritionists next gearing up to mandate a maximum size for a steak I can order at a steakhouse.

    And hey, once a year on a hot summer day I like to go for a Venti Frappe at Starbucks… but no more? Wow, talk about government overreach.

  • Steve Dawson

    Depressingly misleading use of data by the ABA.

    “… added sugar from soda has declined 39% since 2000…” Total sugar? Per serving? Per what? Makes no sense.

    “… a 23% reduction in average calories per serving from beverage sold between 1998 and 2010…” This is clearly the result of the rise in bottled water and other non-cola consumption…. It doesn’t mean there was a decline in calories per serving of non-diet soda.

    Finally – if sugar-sweetened beverages make up 7% of the average person’s calorie consumption, what’s the % if you strip out non-cola drinkers? Much, much higher, I suspect.

  • Michael

    So what’s the thinking here?

    Once Kelly Brownell completely detoxifies the environment, Americans are magically going to start taking care of themselves and shed their panniculi?

  • http://biofortified.org Anastasia

    “Alas. If only educational strategies worked. But they do not.”

    Has a real educational strategy been tried? According to a story in Bloomberg’s own news site: “Only one of every eight adult Americans knows how many calories he should consume in a day.” (2010, but I am doubtful that things have changed significantly http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-07/americans-don-t-know-how-many-calories-to-eat-to-lose-weight-survey-says.html)

    It doesn’t sound like education to date has been very successful – but what types of education strategies have been tried? MyPlate is nice but it’s hiding on a government website that no one visits.

    I have learned from reading this blog and others like it that Americans are so mesmerized by advertisements that they literally can not resist buying things that are bad for them. This must be true because Dr. Nestle says.

    So, use the power of advertising. Put up signs at bus stops and in the papers showing just how long one has to exercise to burn off that large Coca Cola, with a website that details in plain language how to estimate calories in vs calories out. People want to lose weight, they just aren’t able or motivated enough to find the information they need. Combine this with mandated calorie labels and see what happens.

    The proposal to down size sodas may be well intended but there’s no evidence that it will work. In fact, people may rebel to the point that things will be even worse (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/05/31/154055518/bloombergs-sugary-drink-ban-may-not-change-soda-drinkers-habits). Let’s actually try education, and failing that, perhaps work on portion sizes.

  • http://www.lowcarbcharlie.com Charlie L

    Bloomberg’s idea is a step in the right direction at least.

  • http://whatisnutrition.co/ jbunny

    Unless they ban sodas in schools, I can’t imagine what more they can do to control the problem. I think education is important. I still can’t get that image of the rotting tooth in coca cola out of my head. Parents have to help though. My mother only kept spring water in the house when I was a child – soda was a treat. Now that I’m older, I only have spring water in my fridge.

  • Andrew

    While I support what Bloomberg is trying to do, simply preventing people from purchasing a big gulp is not going to prevent obesity. If people choose to consume too many calories, let them. A comprehensive, all foods approach towards healthier living needs to be considered, not just soda. Banning it at an arbitrary volume is ridiculous. why not 15oz? why not a liter? what if I use a 20oz cup with 4oz of ice in it?

  • Michael Bulger

    Anastasia,

    Here in New York, the Department of Health conducts aggressive advertising campaigns. The latest campaign has been going on for a few years. The educational ads I see most often are on the subway, and they are quite compelling. Search Google Images to see a bunch of them. Here is just one example: http://www.bloomberg.com/image/iPo8iPGT3yuw.jpg

    As for whether reducing portion sizes will lower obesity rates, the research indicates that it would certainly help. Larger portion sizes tend to make people consume more. (http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/pdf/portion_size_research.pdf)

    Even consuming an extra 12 ounces of soda a day can lead to significant weight gain. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/84/2/274.abstract) We should also remember that soda’s calories come from refined sugars. Overconsumption of soda doesn’t just create weight problems. Soda consumption increases the risks of developing diabetes and heart disease. (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/sugary-vs-diet-drinks/#diabetes)

    Reducing portion sizes will result in people consuming less soda. That’s what has the American Beverage Association so upset. Less consumption means less money for the soda companies. Their profits apparently take precedence over their customers’s wellbeing.

  • Stephanie

    I don’t see this having any positive effect. The mayor said he wants people to have to stop and think about how much they are drinking, but people will drink what they what, a more successful tactic for getting people to think about what they drink would be to have them order the size by the total calories!

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  • Deb

    Life Expectancy in 1940: 62.9

    Life Expectancy in 2010: 78.7

    Clearly soda is killing us!

    What will kill us is government over-reach on our basic freedom in the guise of “what’s good for us.” It’s stupid, scary and I think the time has come to protest, and protest LOUDLY. It’s not about soda, it’s about control. And that cannot be tolerated. I notice it’s ok to buy a huge beer at Yankee stadium, but you won’t be able to buy a huge soda. You need to stay drunk in this day and age to tolerate the tyranny of this mayor.

  • Open Eyes

    Instead of all of the speculation, why not just run this idea as an experiment and see what happens? I bet it works, but nothing would be better than cold, hard data.

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  • A Critic

    “They price drinks to favor the largest size servings; an 8-ounce soft drink costs much more per ounce than a 2-liter bottle.”

    OMG! A business that runs itself like a business! We need more government to stop this business from being a business!

    “They lobby Congress and federal agencies to prevent laws and regulations that might affect sales.”

    God bless them! I don’t drink soda but I do like my life, liberty, and property, and I know once you are done destroying Coke and Pepsi I’ll be on your short list.

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