Saturday, September 15, 2012

New York calls time on super-sized cola

Okay, it’s official now. New York City has added one more weapon in its armory against its war on obesity.

In a groundbreaking move, the city’s Board of Health unanimously passed, by an 8-0 vote, the first U.S. ban on super-sized sodas and other sugary soft drinks.

The ban applies to any establishment, in the city’s five boroughs, with a food-service license, including fast-food restaurants, workplace cafeterias, delis, movie and Broadway theaters, the concession stands at Yankee Stadium and the pizzerias of Little Italy.

Exceptions include supermarkets, groceries and convenience stores because such establishments do not come under the jurisdiction of the board.

Any of the above mentioned establishments caught selling colas larger than 16 ounces (0.47 liters) face a fine of $200.

Exceptions include diet sodas, alcohol (which is regulated by the state), beverages made mostly of milk or unsweetened fruit juice.

The measure will take effect on March 12, 2013, provided no court action is taken against the move.

After the vote, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pioneered the move, tweeted: “NYC’s new sugary drink policy is the single biggest step any gov’t has taken to curb #obesity. It will help save lives.”

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the move is likely to be copied by other cities in the U.S. – or even the world.

“If this new step leads to New Yorkers simply reducing the size of one sugary drink from 20 ounces to 16 ounces every other week, it would help them avoid gaining some 2.3 million pounds a year,” he wrote in the New York Daily News on the eve of the vote.

“This would slow the obesity epidemic and prevent much needless illness.”

Obesity increases the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses.

It is a growing crisis in New York City and sugary drinks are a leading cause of the obesity epidemic, says a city statement.

Nearly 60 per cent of the city’s adults are overweight or obese, as are 40 per cent of the city’s public elementary school students. One in eight adult New Yorkers now has Type 2 diabetes.

Annually, 5,800 New Yorkers are losing their lives to obesity.

Nearly 10 per cent of the nation’s health care bill is tied to obesity-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Health experts believe that colas are high in calories, cheap, served in large sizes and have no nutritional value.

Not all New Yorkers are happy at the ban, though. They hate being told what to do!

A New York Times poll last month showed that six in 10 New Yorkers opposed the restrictions. Some have likened the ban to Prohibition, others have called the clamp an affront to personal liberty and some others have accused Bloomberg of over-reacting and turning New York into a ‘nanny’ state!

Fuelling the opposition are the restaurant, the soft-drinks industry and major theater chains.

A group called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices claims to have gathered more than 250,000 signatures on petitions and is examining legislative and legal challenges to the ban.

“This is not the end,” said Eliot Hoff, a spokesman for the group, after the vote. “We are exploring legal options, and all other avenues available to us.”

When Bloomberg’s proposal was up for public comments, the Board of Health received 38,000 comments of which 32,000 were in favour. However, it also received a petition opposing the ban with 90,000 names on it.

Theatre chains like the AMC and Regal mounted a massive public relations campaign, displaying banners and posters and airing commercials arguing that New Yorkers should be allowed to make their own drink choices.

However, the last word must certainly go to Dr. Deepthiman Gowda, an internist who teaches at Columbia University and a member of the New York City Board of Health, who said:

“(The initiative) is a small step but a bold step and an important one.”

What more do you think New York should do to cut down the obesity rates? Please leave your comments below.

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