To ban or not to ban – that is the large sugary drink question

The biggest story in public health this week is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sizes (over 16 oz.) of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) sold in food service establishments such as restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas. This includes sugar-sweetened sodas, energy drinks, juices and iced teas, and excludes diet drinks and beverages containing dairy or alcohol. Proponents of the ban state that eliminating large portion sizes of SSBs will help to curb the obesity epidemic by raising a greater awareness of appropriate portion sizes, making consumption of large amounts of SSBs a more conscious decision and decreasing intake of non-satiating empty calories. Opponents argue that the ban threatens freedom of personal choice, disproportionately affects lower income segments of the population and does not address the bigger issue of increased access to and availability of healthy and affordable foods. Jon Stewart took a satirical spin on the issue on the May 31st edition of the Daily Show, highlighting the many unhealthy foods and portion sizes that are “legal,” while washing it down with a large SSB would not be.

The proposal will be introduced to the New York City Board of Health in mid-June and will undergo a public hearing in July if approved for public comment. The final step towards approval occurs with a vote by the Board of Health as early as September, and the law could go into effect by March 2013. Although the ban proposal seems to be widely unpopular, the Board of Health is appointed by the Mayor, so the bill is very likely to pass.

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