While the eruption of anti-American violence in the Middle East generated the majority of headlines last week, New York City had its own breaking news story. Thanks to a vote by the city’s Board of Health, the Big Apple became first in the country to ban restaurants, concession stands, and cafeterias from selling any more than 16 ounces of soda at a time. The ban also includes other sugary or high-calorie drinks.
As a New Yorker, I’m extremely proud that my city is a national leader on a variety of public health initiatives including banning smoking in restaurants and bars, outlawing the use of trans fats, and forcing fast-food restaurants to display calorie counts on their menus. But I can’t help but wonder whether or not this ban will have any teeth when it comes to curbing obesity rates.
Public health statistics in New York aren’t particularly inspiring. Almost 60 percent of adult New Yorkers are either overweight or obese. In order to be considered overweight, your body mass index (BMI) must be 25 or greater. A BMI of 30 or higher means that you are technically obese. Meanwhile, one in eight New Yorkers also suffer from diabetes—a disease that is often directly linked to obesity. While the obesity rate in the Metropolitan New York area slightly lags the national average (21.5% vs. 26.1%), it’s still alarming.
It’s impossible to talk about the soda ban without acknowledging the powerful force behind the idea—billionaire philanthropist and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. To say he is a force to be reckoned with is an understatement and once he backs a cause, there’s little anyone can do to change his mind. But he won’t be mayor forever, and the soda industry is determined to have the ban reversed. Even many New Yorkers say Bloomberg has gone too far. According to a poll conducted by the New York Times, 60 percent of all residents oppose the soda ban.
While I think Mayor Bloomberg’s heart is in the right place, I can’t help but be skeptical of the ban’s effectiveness. It may sound trite, but an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. If we had true health care reform in the US that gave all Americans access to preventative care, screenings and nutritional counseling, people would simply make healthier choices by default.
In the meantime, sugar junkies don’t despair. If you want more than 16 ounces of your liquid fix, you can still buy it in grocery stores—including 7-Eleven. Imagine a life without the Big Gulp? Well neither can I.