Could a 16-ounce cap on city sodas lead to a slippery slope of shrinking Big Macs or iced coffee? Or even a city-ordained bedtime?
These were the concerns voiced today, when the Department of Health hosted a public hearing on a proposed ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces.
Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested banning sugary drinks more than 16 ounces from all city-regulated food establishments, from restaurants to food carts.
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Before today's hearing, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told reporters that it was not a ban, instead simply regulating portion sizes.
For those worried about the city stripping away personal freedoms, he noted that anyone wanting more than 16 ounces can still buy two bottles.
“People can drink as much as they want,” he said. “It simply regulates the portion size handed to them.”
At the hearing, many doctors and health experts lauded the proposal, calling obesity in the city an “epidemic” and suggesting it would curb diseases like diabetes.
But others said the city was going too far by controlling drink choices.
“What will the government be telling me next, what time to go to bed?” Queens Councilman Dan Halloran said.
If passed by the Board of Health this September, restaurants would be fined $200 for a violation, and enforcement would start in March 2013.
Other ideas to help city fight obesity
People opposing the ban suggested other ways to curb obesity. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said that he supported helping people get healthier, but that “a one-size-fits all does not work.” Instead, he suggested, the city should support people exercising and perhaps create a food-stamp-style program to subsidize gym memberships. Others suggested informing New Yorkers about nutrition or adding more gym classes for students, noting that not all New York City kids have daily physical education classes.
Losing a 42-ounce option?
Steps away from the Health Department’s headquarters, where officials and the public spoke about the ban, New Yorkers working or grabbing lunch wondered what it meant for them.
At Checkers, half a block away from where the hearing was held, and which offers a 42-ounce soda option, Nyomi Morphis, 27, said she doesn’t drink soda a lot but did not warm to the idea of city government telling her how much to drink.
"I should be entitled to do what I want to do,” she told Metro.
A few storefronts away, Ione Machen, a graduate student who helps the Health Department with nutrition programs, was grabbing an iced Americano coffee and said she supported the proposal.
“I think it’s a great thing," she said. "There’s no reason why you should have a something as big as your head.”
The café’s owner, Luca Pipponi, said the idea might be good, but he wondered what would happen if someday, health officials decided coffee was bad. “If it’s not done with the right intentions, in 10 years someone could say, 'We’re going to do that with coffee,'” he said.