New York City seeks to ban big sodas from restaurants, food carts

Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 1:14pm

New York City is set to ban the sale of large-size sodas and other sugary beverages in an effort to combat rising obesity rates, city officials said Thursday.

The ban would outlaw the sale of such drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, food carts and any other establishment that receives a letter grade for food service. It would not apply to grocery stores.

The New York City Department of Health will submit the measure to the Board of Health on June 12. There will then be a three-month comment period before the board votes on the proposal, according to a document city officials provided to CNN.

"The Health Department will then provide restaurants six months from the time the Board of Health adopts the proposal before citing violations, and nine months before issuing fines," the document says.

The department's commissioner, Dr. Tom Farley, tweeted that big sugary drinks are a "major contributor" to the "obesity epidemic. We're proposing to cap them at 16 oz in restaurants."

"There they go again," Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association, said in a statement. "The New York City Health Department's unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top. The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates."

Center for Science in the Public Interest spokesman Jeff Cronin told CNN that his group considers the decision the "boldest move in the country" and "not the first time that Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg has led the charge."

"In the same way New York City generated momentum for calorie labeling and for getting rid of artificial trans fat, we hope this move today will start a national movement to ratchet down out of control soda serving sizes," Cronin said.

McDonald's restaurants issued a statement saying, "Public health issues cannot be effectively addressed through a narrowly focused and misguided ban. This is a complex topic, and one that requires a more collaborative and comprehensive approach."

A statement from the Coca-Cola company said the "people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Health Department believes. ... New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase. We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate."

Broad public health initiatives have become a hallmark of Bloomberg's administration. Under the mayor, the city has banned trans fats from restaurants, smoking from parks, and has placed graphic ads targeting junk food and tobacco in public transit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that "many people don't realize just how many calories beverages can contribute to their daily intake."

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, in a brief last August, said sugar drinks "have been linked to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity, and, in adults, type 2 diabetes."

The American Heart Association has recommended a consumption goal of no more than 450 kilocalories of sugar-sweetened beverages -- fewer than three 12-ounce cans of carbonated cola -- per week, the report says.

But Friedman, in his statement, said that "as obesity continues to rise, CDC data shows that calories from sugar-sweetened beverages are a small and declining part of the American diet."

Beverage Digest, which tracks sales, reported that in 2011, sales of carbonated soft drinks dropped by 1%, a steeper decline than the year before. Total sales of carbonated soft drinks are down to the level they were in 1996, the report said.

Per capita consumption is at its lowest since 1987, the report said.

But the CDC notes that the consumption of sugar drinks -- including non-carbonated beverages -- is higher than it was 30 years ago. And part of the key to cutting calories is "to think about what you drink," it says.

That includes watching calories in coffee drinks and smoothies, the CDC says. Just over half -- 52% -- of calories from sugar drinks are consumed at home, the CDC brief said.

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