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Should Large Sodas Be Banned to Fight Obesity?

March 13, 2013

Yesterday would have marked the first day of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban, an initiative that sought to eliminate the sale of all sugary drinks more than 16 fluid ounces at New York City restaurants, delis, street carts, movie theaters, and sports arenas.

Those who opposed the ban can breathe easier today: a State Supreme Court Justice stuck down the law on Monday, criticizing it as “arbitrary and capricious.” With many confusing loopholes – dairy-based beverages like milkshakes would be exempt, and convenience stores and bodegas would still be able to sell large sugary drinks – the law was unworkable and unenforceable, according to the judge.

The proposed soda ban has been extraordinarily divisive, both in NYC and across the country. In a New York Times poll conducted last August, 60 percent of city residents opposed it.

Mayor Bloomberg has been an active crusader against obesity and chronic illness, and his aggressive public health efforts – ranging from banning trans fats in restaurants to prohibiting smoking in public places – have been credited with keeping New Yorkers healthier than ever. Childhood obesity rates in New York City have declined in the past five years, and many attribute the victory to Bloomberg.

Yet Mayor Bloomberg’s public health measures have been critcized as an overreach of government power, and he has earned the nickname “Nanny Bloomberg” for his forceful attempts to regulate people’s behavior.

In the fight against obesity and other preventable chronic illnesses, soda has long come under fire as public healthy enemy #1. Many health and nutrition experts agree that government intervention is necessary to curb the epidemic, whether it’s through a soda tax or regulation of portion size.

In September 2012, Integrative Nutrition supported the soda tax initiative in Richmond California. “One of the most alarming statistics is the rate at which people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This news is especially heartbreaking when we know that this condition can be prevented simply by reducing processed sugar intake,” said Integrative Nutrition Founder, Director, and Primary Teacher Joshua Rosenthal. “I believe that this tax is a simple and powerful way to simultaneously discourage soda consumption and raise money for local healthy living programs.”

And despite Monday’s ruling, Integrative Nutrition guest speaker and nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health Dr. Walter Willett still thinks the ban is just and necessary.  

“It is the role of a health department to protect the public from these hazards,” he said in an interview with NBC. “There is really very clear evidence now that soft drinks are related to weight gain and obesity, and, most certainly, diabetes. Most foods, even if they are not the healthiest foods, have some nutritional value. Here it is all harm, no nutritional value. And the amounts being consumed are massive.”’

Yesterday we asked the Integrative Nutrition community on Facebook what they thought about the soda ban ruling, and opinions were mixed. Most agreed that government regulation alone is not sufficient and that people must be educated to make healthy choices themselves. (Studies show that Health Coaches can help.)

Do you think large sodas should be banned in order to fight the obesity epidemic?