Big Apple: Don’t supersize me

City proposes ban on the sale of oversize sodas

Various size cups exhibited with the amount of sugar they contain, are displayed at New York’s City Hall, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces a proposed a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants, delis and movie theaters. Enlarge photo

RICHARD DREW/Associated Press

Various size cups exhibited with the amount of sugar they contain, are displayed at New York’s City Hall, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces a proposed a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants, delis and movie theaters.

NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a ban on the sale of large servings of soda and other sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants, delis and movie theaters in one of his most aggressive efforts yet to fight obesity.

The proposal marks the first time an American city has so directly attempted to limit sugary-drink portion sizes. City officials Thursday said they believe it ultimately will prove popular with New Yorkers and push governments around the U.S. to adopt similar rules.

But it immediately sparked renewed accusations that the Bloomberg administration is sticking its nose into matters best left to individuals.

“There they go again,” said Stefan Friedman, spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association, who called the proposal “zealous.”

“The New York City Health Department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top,” Friedman said. “The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates.”

Friedman pointed to federal data showing that calories from sugar-sweetened drinks are a declining portion of American diets even as obesity is increasing.

But City Hall officials, citing a 2006 study, argue that sugary drinks are the largest contributor to rising calorie consumption and obesity. They note that sweet drinks are linked to long-term weight gain and increased rates of diabetes and heart disease.

The proposal requires the approval of the city’s Board of Health – considered likely because its members are all appointed by Bloomberg.

The administration’s proposal would impose a 16-ounce limit on sugary drinks sold at restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts. It would apply to bottled drinks – many plastic soda bottles contains 20 ounces – as well as fountain sodas.

The proposal drew strong reaction from the Coca-Cola Co.

“New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase,” the company said in a statement. “We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate.”

The ban would apply only to sweetened drinks that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. (A 12-ounce can of Coke contains about 140 calories.) It would not apply to diet soda, and any drink that is at least half milk or milk substitute would be exempt.

The ban, which could take effect as soon as March, would not apply to drinks sold in grocery or convenience stores that don’t primarily sell foods meant to be eaten right away. Businesses that violate the rules would face fines of $200 per failed inspection.

City officials said they believe some calorie-heavy beverages wouldn’t be affected. Starbucks Frappucinos, for example, would probably be exempted because of their dairy content, while the Slurpees at 7-Eleven wouldn’t be affected because the stores are regulated as groceries.

Under the three-term mayor, the city has campaigned aggressively against obesity, outlawing trans-fats in french fries and other restaurant food and forcing chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus. The mayor has also led efforts to ban smoking in the city’s bars, restaurants, parks and beaches.

His efforts have drawn criticism from those who accuse him of instituting a “nanny state.”

His administration has tried other ways to discourage soda consumption. The mayor supported a state tax on sodas, but the measure died in Albany, and he tried to restrict the use of food stamps to buy sodas, an idea federal regulators rejected.