March 12, 2013

Today (Tuesday, March 12th) marks the date that New York’s ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces begins.  In an effort to battle obesity, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has instituted a ban on large sizes of sugary drinks.  You will no longer be able to go into your favorite sandwich shop and order a 20 ounce soda with your meal when dining in NYC.  This change is causing many restaurant owners to edit their menus and the decrease the sizes of their beverages in order to be in compliance.

From a health standpoint, a 20 ounce size soda has about 250 calories and 69 grams of sugar. According to the Pepsi website, a 20 ounce Pepsi is actually two and a half servings.  If a restaurant goer purchases two 20 ounce sodas with their dinner, they are consuming five servings of soda with just that meal.  From a health standpoint, the ban makes sense. But will it actually help with the obesity problem? I don’t think so and here’s why.

  • The ban only applies to restaurants, theaters, movie theaters, cafes and stadiums.  Patrons who purchase their lunches at the grocery store deli or a convenience store will still be allowed to purchase whatever size sugary drink they want. Stores are governed by different rules.
  • The ban will not prevent customers from purchasing multiple 16 ounce sugary drinks with their meal.  While patrons cannot purchase a 20 ounce soda with their sandwich, there is nothing to stop them from purchasing two 16 ounce drinks or getting multiple refills on a smaller size.
  • The ban is only in New York City establishments. Will this ban simply encourage people to take their shopping dollars out of the city and travel to New Jersey for dinner instead?
  • Only sugary drinks are affected. This ban does nothing to limit the sale of super large diet beverages.  Some people feel that the artificial sweeteners in diet beverages are worse for you than sugar.  Some studies even suggest that drinking diet soda may be connected to weight gain.
  • The difference between a 16.9 ounce Pepsi and a 20 ounce Pepsi is only 40 calories. Considering your typical fast food lunch of a burger and large French fries contains 1250 calories (not including a beverage), is 40 calories really going to make a measurable difference in our obesity problem?
Will this ban encourage people to make healthier decisions when deciding what to have for lunch? Or will it simply encourage them to spend their money elsewhere, purchase multiples or stop at the store for a 20 ounce sugary drink on the way home?
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