Why stop with just a super-sized soda ban?
That's what some members of the Board of Health suggested today at their meeting, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces was introduced.
Bloomie's idea may outrage many New Yorkers, but some board members were so enthused by it that they even started wondering what foods could be slashed next.
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“We’re really looking at restricting portion size, so the argument could be … What about the size of a hamburger or jumbo fries?” board member Dr. Michael Phillips said.
Other board members asked why the Health Department decided to focus on just sugary drinks and the 16-ounce size.
Board member Dr. Joel Forman suggested milkshakes, exempt from Bloomberg's ban because milk is nutritious, should not be given a pass.
“There are certainly milkshakes and milk coffee beverages that have monstrous amounts of calories in them, and I’m not so sure what the rationale is not to include those,” Forman said.
When board member Dr. Bruce Vladeck found out that soda in movie theaters would be affected, he suggested that its partner in crime, popcorn, should suffer the same fate.
“I was thinking about the typical movie theater with a 32-ounce drink and 32 ounces of popcorn,” Vladeck said. “The popcorn isn’t a whole lot better from a nutritional point of view than the soda.”
Board members unanimously voted to allow the proposed ban to proceed to a public hearing July 24.
“There were questions about, ‘Why stop here?’” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said after the hearing. But he was careful to emphasize that the Department is only considering restricting sugary drinks.
Near the end of the meeting, board member Pamela Brier lauded the plan and suggested it may only be the beginning.
“This does not solve all problems, and there’s plenty more issues to take up,” she said.
New Yorkers can comment on the proposed ban here, where the proposed rule should be posted within a few days, Farley said.
Obesity an ‘epidemic’
City officials said 40 percent of public school children and 58 percent of adults are obese.
This accounts for 5,800 deaths each year and $4 billion in medical costs directly related to obesity, according to the Department of Health.
"Obesity is an epidemic among New Yorkers," the Department of Health’s Susan Kansagra said.
And the health department decided to take on beverages because their portion size "has exploded" in recent years, Kansagra said.
Americans on average take in about 200 to 300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, according to the Health Department.
When someone eats a larger portion, they eat 20 to 50 percent more. "You do it without realizing it," Kansagra said.
If New Yorkers reduced portion size from 20 to 16 ounces for one drink
every two weeks, the city would save about 2.3 million pounds over one
year, Kansagra said.
Support for the ban
Many board members seemed to support the ban, lauding the presentation and the city’s efforts so far.
However, some raised questions about the implementation. Dr. Phillips questioned why 7-Eleven, which sells Big Gulps, should be excluded but restaurants would not. “Is that fair?” he asked.
And Andrew Moesel, from the New York Restaurant Association, said they planned to push back against the proposed ban. "What we're really concerned about is the slippery slope this creates,” he said.