by Marion Nestle
Jun 12 2012

More on Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial soda initiative

The controversy continues over Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas to 16 ounces in certain places.

On the one hand, we have today’s account in the New York Times of Mayor Bloomberg’s visit to Montefiore in the Bronx, where obesity levels appear intractable:

Critics have described [Mayor Bloomberg’s] proposed soda rule as interfering with a matter of personal choice, calling instead for less intrusive means to address the obesity problem, through education and access to healthy foods. But the Bronx experience helps explain why Mr. Bloomberg and city health officials embraced the aggressive new regulatory tact after years of trying, and failing, to curb obesity through those types of measures.

…In defending his proposal, Mr. Bloomberg said at Montefiore that the ban was not intended to tread on anyone’s rights, and he noted that more than individual liberties were at stake. “We are absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to help you get on track and stay on track to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “Because this isn’t your crisis alone — it is a crisis for our city and our entire country.”

On the other hand, here’s the June 18 New Yorker–“soda noir.” 










The New York City Board of Health is meeting today to review the Mayor’s soda proposal.  Stay tuned!

  • of course this is treading on people’s rights! Banning something does nothing more than make criminals out of non-criminals.

  • Anthro

    @1st Lieut.

    NO–is is NOT.



    The obese have rights too–the right to not be marketed into a state of debilitating illness. Children cannot sort out the marketing messages constantly hurled at them. Parents aren’t around enough to do their jobs and are subject to the same psychological manipulation. We all pay in increased health care costs. It’s not just your rights to do as you damn well please with total disregard for anyone else–besides, no one is going to stop you drinking soda. Presumably you survived prior to the introduction of quart and gallon sizes?

  • Will

    @Anthro– pray tell, where exactly in the Constitution is the “right to not be marketed into a state of debilitating illness”? It’s a big disservice to legitimate rights when people fabricate new “rights” out of whole cloth. Business owners have First Amendment rights to market their products as long as it’s not done deceptively or fraudulently.

    And please, show some evidence that marketing is behind obesity. At the end of the day, marketing is an influence (large or small), but companies aren’t forcing anyone to buy their products.

  • Weiwen

    This is a very, very modest infringement on individual autonomy. People are talking about this as if Bloomberg is banning soda. Maybe he should, but he isn’t.

    You want to talk intrusive, think about the Cleveland Clinic, where they first banned smoking, then they banned smokers, then they forced their employees into fitness programs. Or Singapore, where the fat kids are shepherded into extra fitness classes. And by the way, if you’re still overweight when you’re conscripted, you are in for a lot more extra fitness classes. In my day, you had to serve a couple months longer if you didn’t do well enough on the annual fitness tests that they made people do in school, too.

    Back to Bloomberg, the gains are going to be modest to non-existent, but maybe this will pave the way for better interventions. I think it’s worth a shot.

  • Steve

    “We are absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to help you get on track and stay on track to maintain a healthy lifestyle”

    Yep, and I’m quite sure that Keys and McGovern were also committed to doing everything in their power to ‘help’ us get on track… anybody seen tracks lately? I know I sure haven’t.

    When government helps, nobody wins.

  • @gemswinc

    Re: Marketing..No one “forces” you..physically, but marketers are well aware of how effective their campaigns are and how vulnerable most of the population is..or they would cease & desist.

    Not fraudulent..? “Buy Happiness” seen as a Coca Cola ad.. more like buy disease, pay too much for poisoned water. Caveat Emptor!

  • Will

    @gemswinc — Marketing is a form of influencing behavior, but so is speech. Different groups try to convince you to vote a certain way. That’s influencing behavior. It’s up to you to make the final choice. We might as well ban free speech if “trying to influence behavior” is the standard by which we prohibit conduct. To me, deception and physical force seem like better standards for a free society.

    “Buy Happiness” is a subjective phrase. You don’t find happiness in Coca-Cola, but others do. Everybody’s entitled to their own beliefs. De gustibus non est disputandum. Merely stating an opinion isn’t fraudulent.

  • The New Yorker should have made the man and woman on the soda-noir cover kinda pudgy.

  • Most amusing was the photo accompanying the NY Times article, showing a poorly attended exercise session, which included an underweight young girl. Clearly more needs to be done at the community level because this was is truly a supersized disaster:

  • Russ

    I don’t live in NYC so this doesn’t directly impact me but I don’t think a ban on large soda’s is the answer to the obesity problem.

    People should have the right to drink as large of a soda as they want. Yes, drinking large amounts of soda will hurt their health in the long run and the public at large will have to pay higher health care costs because of this but something is very wrong when you can’t buy 32 ounces of soda at the corner store but you can buy a liter of vodka with no problem.

    Instead Bloomberg should heavily tax large sodas and use the money to fund health care treatment and education to get people to form better habits. This way people still have the choice to drink the large size but will have to pay substantially more to do so and healthcare gets additional funding. Raise the price via tax and let the market self correct. An even better idea is to end the corn subsidy, but I’m not holding my breath for that one.

    And please don’t start comparing drinking soda with smoking, they are nothing alike.

  • IRememberWhen


    “And please don’t start comparing drinking soda with smoking, they are nothing alike.”

    You are correct. If you do the math, the economic harm of obesity in terms of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease is far worse. Obesity is terrifyingly expensive to taxpayers and business alike. The social cost is sobering.

    Obesity and smoking are not alike – obesity is vastly more harmful on a social scale and to taxpayers. It therefore deserves a public health response far more aggressive than that against smoking.

    Soda consumption should be limited to those over 16 years old and the tax on each serving should be 300% to discourage consumption.

  • Russ

    I’m not debating if smoking or drinking soda is worse than the other in economic terms, I’m sure strong cases could be made on both sides.

    The two shouldn’t be compared to each other because smoking has the possibility of easily hurting others through second hand smoke while drinking soda will only affect the person drinking it. No one has ever accidently drank 32 oz of soda.

    I maintain my belief that people should have the right to drink as much soda as they want but that soda should be highly taxed to cover the social costs of increased healthcare expenses.

  • Michael Bulger


    Legislators in NY and other states have proposed taxes on sugary beverages. The soda companies are spending millions of dollars to lobby against these measures. In NY, they’ve been successful in stopping the proposals.

    Once again, it needs to be pointed out that Bloomberg’s proposal will not make it impossible for people to buy as much soda as they want. Portion sizes will be limited in certain venues. Two liter bottles will still be in corner stores. And anyone can get up for seconds at McDonald’s if they are so inclined.

    The research shows that larger portions tend to make people consume more than if they are served in small amounts. Folks just finish what is in front of them. They are less likely to overeat if they have to stop and think. While limiting soda sizes in some venues is not a silver bullet, it will help a segment of the population reduce their intake. (And that is what the soda companies are worried about: selling less soda).

    I’ve found myself asking: Which is more important to me? Soda companies’s sales figures and my right to buy an over-sized beverage? Or the people whose health will be positively affected by a size limit?

    Frankly, it is an easy question for me to answer. Other people’s health is more important than how convenient it is for me to drink 32 oz. of sugary soda.

  • Russ


    I’m familiar with the portion size/eating more studies and agree that the more you put in front of yourself, the more you will eat out of mindless habit. I also agree that soda companies are afraid that their sales volume might (probably will) fall as a result of the ban. Where I don’t agree is that there should be a ban on a non toxic substance where there is no chance of hurting another person, only yourself and that’s only with continual consumption over an extended period of time.

    We may have to agree to disagree but I think a tax is a better solution than a ban.

    On a side note, I’m not even that big of a soda drinker. I drink on average less than a can a week but I don’t like, in principle, the idea of the government telling me what I can and can’t eat or drink. If they want consumers to change their behavior use taxes as an incentive to help push them to change, but still give them the right to make up their own mind.

  • Michael Bulger

    A back-of-the-napkin sketch of what the science says we could expect:

    I hope this will make it easier to understand what the Health Department is going with the size restriction.

    A 32 oz. soda has about 300 calories. A 16 oz soda has about 150 calories. Studies have found that larger portion sizes can cause individuals to increase their caloric consumption by around 30%. Of course, the reduction would be less for people who don’t regularly drink big sodas. But remember, a Double Big Gulp is 750 calories. It is not unreasonable to believe that the people who consume these sodas at above average levels will be reducing their intake by 100 calories, per day. A 100 calorie reduction in total intake when all other factors are held constant would result in a loss of about 10 lbs over the course of a year.

    If you’d like, you can draw up a more detailed model and factor in diabetes rates and whatnot. But, based on the science, we can estimate that some individuals will lose significant amounts of weight. This size restriction will have health benefits for people, especially those who currently consume large amounts of soda.

    To me, that’s more important than my simple convenience.

  • David Sharp

    While personal experience is not scientifically vigorous-
    A decade ago I was drinking a 2-liter per day of soda. It was cheap, refreshing, and I was young enough to not worry about any long term health negatives. The result after two years of this was 25 pounds and cavities (my soda consumption was also paired with a far too sedentary lifestyle).

    Bloomberg’s initiative has ZERO chance of changing the lifestyle of past-me as I refused to spend $1.50 on a 32 ounce soda when I could get a 2-liter from the store for $1. Simple economics for me. I would have shrugged at this ruling, continued purchasing a dozen bottles at the store, and continued to carry one around in my backpack wherever I went. So for the ease of work-around I give this law a resounding “meh”.

    But thrusting the conversation of “over-consumption” of soda (both at a single sitting and long term) onto a national stage and doing it in a way where television shows like The Daily Show have mentioned it in their last 3 or 4 episodes? I love it! I don’t care if a single fine is ever levied because it has sparked a debate that continues to make headlines. Half of the headlines (5 out of 10) on the front page of this blog are related to either the soda ban or soda companies and pieces about the soda ban can be found in news outlets like NYT, Huffpost, CBS, etc. Even though this is technically a local issue (it only affects one city), multinational corporations have had to respond in a forceful (and perhaps exaggerated) manor to make certain that it doesn’t create a national trend or copy-cat laws.

    While my personal opinion may favor an individual’s freedom to decide, as a nutrition academic I may not side with Mayor Bloomberg, but I definitely owe him much gratitude for making so many people talk so much about portion size and caloric intake. This fight may accidentally educate a whole lot of people.

  • Russ

    A couple of points:

    To Michael: I disagree that people may lose up to 10 pounds a year, I think it’s more accurate to say that they will not gain 10 pounds that they may otherwise have gained

    To David: Saying the debate may accidentally educate people is nice, but I think we all know that lack of education isn’t the issue. No amount of education will solve the problem, just like no amount of education will fix a person’s financial problem if they spend more than they make. You have to change people’s habits and routines, which the debate may or may not due, but giving them more education won’t change anything.

    And in general: I’m just not comfortable with the government resorting to bans on food items in the name of public health benefits. The government should be in the business of making sure that society functions in an orderly manner, not trying to make me be as healthy as I potentially could be.

    The only counter argument that I keep hearing is that a person’s future illness will cause higher expense for society, to which I keep saying: tax them so that they are funding their own future expense.

  • IRememberWhen


    “No one has ever accidently drank 32 oz of soda.”

    Of course this is patently false, esp. at it applies to children. Children can easily go to the fridge at home and get can after can of soda unsupervised without understanding what they are doing – just as many elementary school children stop by 7-11 and buy Big Gulps with their allowance, not understanding what the portion size means.

    Infants and toddlers are often given many glasses or bottles of refined apple “juice” drink (like Coke, filled with HFCS, only 10% juice) in day care and by their undereducated nannies.

    There is currently an obesity epidemic among the 1-year-old set. How does that happen? The endless supply of this refined apple “juice” drink, which is basically fruit-flavored soda.

    Certainly at my office, the business provides soda free all day to employees so they don’t leave to go downstairs for a break. As a result my colleagues end up sipping the endless supply of soda all day long, with little thought to how much they are drinking.

    People bring their sodas to all the meetings, and even will pour for each other from a pitcher they fill for longer ones. Everyone’s drinking all day, so there’s a peer element as well.

  • Russ

    Irememberwhen, you’re taking my words out of context and twisting them. I was clearly comparing the unintended and sometimes unavoidable inhalation of second hand smoke to the conscious decision to buy and drink a large soda. The two aren’t the same thing at all, yet posters here seem to think they are.

    I have no idea why you’re bringing toddlers into the conversation, I don’t think they’re buying anything and should only be drinking what their parents give them. If they’re doing otherwise then perhaps the parents should spend more time taking care of their child. But that doesn’t belong in this thread.

    As for your coworkers, they could just as easily drink water all day and most employers also provide free coffee and tea to their workers. Your coworkers are making the decision to drink the free soda and this goes directly to my previous point about the need to change a person’s habits and routines, not the need to ban the purchase of a large soda.

    Do you seriously want the government regulating more of what you can and can’t do in your personal life when what your’e doing doesn’t impact anyone else but you and even then only negatively effects you if you do it for a long period of time?

    Randi girl, I think we can have a discussion and debate without personal attacks on anyone.

  • Part of the problem with Mayor Bloomberg’s plan is that it is arbitrary and wholly ineffective, in that it grants a plethora of bewildering exceptions, including convenience stores and all markets.

    And frankly, if Bloomberg’s crusade is only about obesity, he is missing the proverbial forest for the small trees, even when talking only about beverages.

    Here’s my take on the brouhaha (below). Thank you, Marion, for covering both sides of this issue, though.

  • Michael Bulger


    I agree with your correction. I wrote that post in a bit of a rush, and thought the same thing that you did, once I had left the house.

  • Just an observation. Your readers’ comments on these articles about limits on soda sizes are as entertaining as your columns, Marion. Obviously, some very intelligent people read your articles, and with a good balance of viewpoints. I think you might start writing some of your columns as a single line and simply say “discuss.” 🙂

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  • I had the idea that we don’t make policy based on scientific issues that are not resolved. I am some kind of expert and I don’t see scientific evidence that sweetened sodas, by itself, are the major cause of obesity. I don’t think that fructose is uniquely fattening, that is, replacing all carbohydrate with fat is more effective than replacing fructose with glucose. I could be wrong but this makes the issue controversial, no? I don’t think it is good to make recommendations and especially not government action in areas of scientific disagreement — think low-fat recommendation precedent. There is little scientific disagreement on tobacco as a positive control. Of course, it is described as a first step and Hizzona probably has his sights on taxes which we all agree bring in money.

  • RD

    I was surprised when I saw an article with a quote that went along the lines of Mr. Bloomburgh stating that the NYC government is just forcing its citizens to know what’s best for them. The condescending attitude of the argument really is surprising, not just the content.
    I suppose you can’t really call this simple socialism if, by definition, socialism means putting social values over individual ones or setting societal health/ goals (whatever these are determined to be through whatever means) as a priority. No, the argument goes further than caring for the social consequences of one’s actions. There is an element of consideration for potential social expenses. Mayor Bloomburgh isn’t just saying that all people that are at high risk of entering the medical services of the state because of health problems resulting from soda are banned from purchasing X amount of it(which, strangely, sounds worse than what I’m about to say). That might be socialist because that would imply we know the person is likely to need medical attention supported by social taxation and therefore restraint of the individual who lives in a system must be pressured. But, instead, Mr. Bloomburgh states that ALL people in NYC, because they MIGHT become at risk healthfully, and therefore MIGHT cause social expense, must not be able to purchase X amount of soda. What THAT is is the state of paranoia that NYC would enter into, the same state in which one lives when nicotine and alcohol are illegal because the user MIGHT use it near a child and harm a child or MIGHT use it to result in a social expense (use near a child, I suppose, could be a social expense).
    It is that focus on the potential of a problem and insisting on a law, that defines this proposal differently, I believe. I am also worried that he can come out so openly and say that, frankly, we have a duty to take care of our selves healthily, but if pressed, I am sure he would come back to a social reason. For, what reason is ever given for the importance of personal health beyond the social. I’ve never heard of individual health being considered important in and of itself, although I suppose that would be a form of paranoia as well, i.e. that if individual health is considered of the utmost importance, we might over indulge ourselves with 30 liters and therefore its a problem (individual paranoia as opposed to social paranoia?)
    In any case, I really don’t see why the slippery slope argument would be invalid here, as the same underlying paranoia would define other laws. If we want to be simple, we can use the same argument for sugar. Really, why would you not apply the same law to X amount of sugar that = the sugar in the soda you are limiting for purchase? After all, I might go home and use all of it, just as much as I would use all of the soda. After all, my unknowing child might get the better of my irresponsibility. After all, sugar is sugar no mater how viscous. And after all, me eating all that sugar in a week or two will be just as horrible or just is ineffective depending on what I am doing with my body before and afterwards. Personally, I exercise and stopped drinking soda years ago (maybe a glass once a year), and I know that if I decided to drink a gallon of soda one day, eat the equivalent in sugar the next, and run 2 days before and after, I’d seriously be fine (despite the vomiting), because that’s how my body works. Now, the government can’t know how my body works, it feels it has to assume the mean and the mean potential, and that is my problem with the law.
    But in any case, soda isn’t banned and Bloomburgh can be voted out of office, so it isn’t permanent and it isn’t the worse law imaginable (the worse would be a curfew: I like fireflies but I MIGHT be a terrorist!? That’s the State Of Paranoia).
    Then again, if you paranoians like the policy, by all means vote it in again with his next law. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s definitely physically healthy, I just wouldn’t want to live there.

    PS. Is it stereotypical or what that we Americans should get all in a rage, not simply about whether we can have our soda, but about being able to order more than 16oz of the stuff at once, when certain people around the world, and even in our own country, don’t even have water to drink? I understand the ethic and principal behind the argument, but it just seems FAR to pretentious with regard to our soda to argue about HOW MUCH of it we can have AT ONCE. What would you suppose those who are absolutely and positively DENIED ANY and ALL H20 by those in charge whom they DID NOT ELECT have to say of our desperate situation?

    A sigh, to say the least.