By now I’m sure you’ve seen (and possibly debated heavily) Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban of sugar sweetened beverages larger than 16oz in movie theaters, restaurants, and vending carts. I was NYC for the 4 days following the announcement and it seemed everywhere I turned there was someone who wanted to know what I thought about it and then tell me I was wrong – from family and friends I was visiting (many of whom don’t even live in NY) to random older men outside the bar I was at on Friday evening. Even if it doesn’t pass, it’s certainly caused quite the stir. The best press is the press that gets people talking, right?
Whether or not you agree with the proposal, here’s what I think we need to consider:
- Sugary beverages are, by far, the largest contributor to Americans’ calorie intake of any food or beverage. Research consistently shows that sugary beverage consumption increases daily calorie intake – we don’t compensate for the calories consumed in liquid form.
- Portion sizes have nearly tripled over the last 30 years. Consumers (in my opinion) have a distorted view of what an appropriate portion size looks like. We are in the age of super-sizing everything and need reset the norm for portion sizes.
- Reducing calorie intake by 100 calories per day equals 10lbs of weight loss over a year and 200, 20 lbs. Reducing sugary beverage consumption by 16 oz (from a 32 oz portion to a 16 oz portion) is 200 calories saved!
- Food and beverage companies have made it economically enticing to purchase a larger size (how often do you hear “only 10 cents more for the large?”).
Critics continue to argue that this ban would take away personal liberties. All I have to say is – come on…are you serious? The proposal doesn’t tell anyone how much he or she can drink – a person could still purchase two 16oz sodas at the movie theaters if they want to drink that much. My guess is they won’t – perhaps they will even learn to enjoy the smaller version instead of gulping it down so fast they don’t remember drinking it. Or maybe they will choose to purchase the larger size of a no-calorie drink. The funny part about all of it is — many of the people I’ve talked to that disagree with the proposed ban openly stated that they would never order such a large size. They just didn’t like the option being taken away I guess. You may not be able to remember (I certainly don’t), but there was once a time where 32oz drinks didn’t exist – did anyone complain about not getting enough then?
Perhaps we need to change our perspective on all of this. Earlier today, I read a blog post written by a Tufts University Friedman School economics professor titled “What Ban?” He proposes an interesting perspective:
“My version: Bloomberg has proposed a cup-size restriction for selected soda sales in restaurants, movie theatres, and vending carts.”
Restriction, not a ban. Seems a little more palatable, no?
Some think it’s only the beginning of losing all freedom. Others argue that it should be up to the individual to make his or her own decisions about what they eat. Yes, I agree. But that’s clearly not working. Plus, it’s not easy to turn down the upgrade to a larger size for only a few cents more.
How will this proposed restriction affect beverage companies’ and restaurants’ revenue? I’m not sure – I am no economics expert. My guess is they would just begin to charge more for the smaller size. I will leave that analysis up to the economists to determine.
I do, however, see this as an opportunity for food and beverage companies to invest in more low-calorie and/or nutritious options and to make them more available in restaurants and movie theaters. It’s a challenge for them to become more innovative.
Will this proposal pass? I am hopeful, but that is probably the optimistic nutritionist in me. There is a lot of opposition and other proposals related to sugary beverages (taxes, SNAP restrictions), though very different, did not. If it does, I think it will be important for NYC to put into place a thorough measurement plan that will look at both the public health and economic effects of such a restriction. That way we can really answer whether or not this has any effect on public health and business. If it doesn’t pass, I am at least hopeful that this brings the discussion of portion sizes to the center of the weight conversation.
What are your thoughts on the proposed restriction? I’d love to hear all sides of this debate – so please share!
- your FFF