Last week, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a proposal to limit serving sizes of sugary drinks – the boldest public health effort yet towards the prevention of obesity. The proposed ban would prohibit the sale of any cup or bottle of sugar-sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces in restaurants, fast-food franchises, movie theaters, sports arenas, and street carts. The ban does not include diet sodas, fruit juice, or dairy-based drinks like milkshakes and smoothies.
Sodas and other sugar-based drinks are the only food or beverage that have been directly linked to weight gain. They are the number one source of calories in America, representing about 7 percent of the average person’s caloric intake, according to government surveys.
Especially worrisome are the stats for America’s children and adolescents. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that for each additional serving of soda or juice that a child consumes per day, their chances of becoming overweight increase by 60 percent! These calories have no nutrition value – a source of what health professionals like to call empty calories – and contribute to a daily total that, let’s be honest, is already too high.
Brutal reactions to the ban have submerged, for obvious reason. Has the portion policing effort gone too far? Well, if you really want to break it down into serving size, that 16-ounce soda is actually two servings. And really, if anything deserves a lesson and intervention in portions, it’s the sweetened beverage industry. I had an episode of my own last year, when buying some sort of carbonated beverage at a convenience store. The cashier politely informed me that the 2-Liter bottle was cheaper than the 12-ounce one I had selected to buy. Really? A 2-liter? I responded (politely, of course) that the cup holder in my car was not large enough to accommodate a 2-liter bottle, but thank you for offering.
It all comes back to mindless eating habits. “People generally eat what is put in front of them,” says portion-guru Brian Wansink, Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab Director. “An increasing amount of research suggests that some people use visual indication,” Wansink continues, “such as a clean plate or bottom of a bowl, to tell them when to stop.” So maybe, when the drop stops at 16 ounces, we’ll be satisfied and refreshed. But if the drop doesn’t stop until ounce 50, like many value-sized sips, we’ll keep slurping 'til the soda is done… 600 calories later. That’s a meal in a cup, but far less filling and satisfying.
While one-size certainly does not fit all in the effort to curb our country’s obesity problem, at least Bloomberg is trying to do something about it. According to Marion Nestle, nutrition authority and Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU, “Beverage companies are interested in one thing and one thing only: the financial health of beverages companies. And they have convinced many Americans that the financial health of beverage companies trumps public health.” Now that’s something to think about.
In my house growing up, soft drinks were occasional treats. Who knows, maybe a 16-ounce limit will bring it back to that status and start to re-teach us how to slow down, savor, and think before we drink.
What do you think about New York’s plan to ban big sizes of sugary drinks?