Mayor Bloomberg Goes After Soda in the Obesity Battle: Is He Fighting the Right Fight?

The city that never sleeps might finally get some rest because of the reduction in caffeine from their soda and coffee. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is superman in disguise trying to save the city’s population from obesity. On May 30, 2024, Bloomberg proposed the banning of beverages more than 16 ounces in size at eating establishments. Not only would restaurants in New York be affected, but movie theaters, street food carts, and sports arenas, too. Sugary sodas greater than 16 ounces would be gone and so would sweetened tea, coffees, fruit juices, milk shakes, and alcoholic beverages. The public outcry will be the toughest hurdle for the mayor to jump. If the proposal is approved by the Board of Health then all sugary beverages with more than 16 ounces will be banned from New York City.

Mayor Bloomberg has a history of obesity-fighting proposals. His efforts to make the city healthier have always been met with debate and controversy, and often succeed. Mary Hartley, RD, a NYC resident and our dietitian, noted the ban on artificial trans fats in the city. She also praised the Mayor’s actions to ban smoking, calling it “most remarkable.”

“In New York City, smoking is banned in all public places, even outdoors, in parks, beaches, and pedestrian malls, and the cost per pack of cigarettes ranges from $11 to $14.50. Naturally, there is less smoking here,” she said.

In New York City you’ll also find calorie counts posted on restaurant menus, which is required by law. His attempts to solve the epidemic crisis certainly deserve praise; but is his approach working?

His recent proposal to ban soda purchases with food stamps was rejected by the USDA. We have to wonder if this initiative with soda will falter, too.

We don’t like soda any more than any other nutritionist. It’s terrible for you, and diet soda is even worse. But we have to wonder if a high tax or ban will actually stop people from drinking the sugary drinks they want. Some can argue that cigarettes and soda are different because cigarettes have addictive chemicals, but soda’s caffeine and sugar ingredients are addictive as well. In fact, this spring, obesity-related deaths overtook smoking as the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Sugary beverages are a legitimate factor in obesity, but it is not the deep root of the problem. A visit to schools throughout our country should shine light on other obesity contributors. Today, there are schools feeding kids pizza for breakfast. Recess time has been reduced or eliminated in many schools so that kids aren’t getting the physical activity that is imperative for their fitness and developmental needs. Banning sugary drinks may seem like a great start to fighting obesity, but there are greater alternatives that the mayor should invest his time into.

If Bloomberg is going to stir up this much conversation about obesity, shouldn’t it be for something that can actually create a change? His name was a top 10 trending topic on Twitter this morning because the issue is so hot, but that doesn’t mean people are going to stop buying soda. Couldn’t a NYC resident buy two 16-ounce drinks? Can’t they get a refill? Can’t they keep a two-liter at their desk and refill at will? His solution, while admittedly wrapped in the best of intentions, feels like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.

His energy, and any financial investment by the city to push through and promote this initiative, might be better spent in educating citizens, creating programs that make nutrition and fitness resources accessible and affordable, and truly overhauling school fitness and food programs.

“I do think the proposal is realistic because we have to start somewhere,” said Hartley. And we’ll agree, it’s a place to start. We just question whether or not it’s the right place to start.

UPDATE 5/31/12: The Coca-Cola Company reached out to with this statement about Bloomberg’s plan.

“The people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Health Department believes. We are transparent with our consumers. They can see exactly how many calories are in every beverage we serve. We have prominently placed calorie counts on the front of our bottles and cans and in New York City, restaurants already post the calorie content of all their offerings and portion sizes — including soft drinks.

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.”

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