N.Y. board likes Bloomberg's proposed big-drink ban

Posted: June 15, 2012

NEW YORK - New York City's Board of Health signaled strong support this week for the mayor's plan to fight obesity by banning the sale of large, sugary beverages at local restaurants.

The proposal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg would prohibit licensed food-service establishments from using containers bigger than 16 ounces to serve high-calorie drinks like colas, lemonade, and punch.

People would be free to buy another round, but restaurants couldn't serve the larger cups now so popular at fast-food eateries, movie theaters, and food courts.

A formal vote whether to approve the measure isn't scheduled to take place until Sept. 13, but several board members spoke strongly in favor of it Tuesday. Some even wondered aloud why the city wasn't going further and limiting portion sizes of other popular high-calorie foods.

One raised an objection to a proposed exemption for milk products, which would leave people free to continue enjoying big milkshakes. Another said he did not like that some restaurants could continue to offer people bottomless cups of soda, with free refills.

Board member Bruce Vladeck asked why the city wasn't considering portion-size limits for buttery, movie-theater popcorn.

Outside the meeting, Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York City Restaurant Association, said: "Some of the board members seemed to think that the proposal didn't go far enough, and I found that very alarming."

He said his organization would consider legal action.

The Board of Health is independent, but its members are appointed by the mayor and it has no record of challenging his initiatives.

Bloomberg and the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, say they are proposing the ban because obesity has become a health crisis and because sweetened soft drinks bear a disproportionate share of the blame for making people so fat.

Obesity kills 5,800 people every year in New York City, the Health Department said. Diabetes, a disease that can be linked to obesity, kills 1,700 more people. An additional 2,600 are hospitalized for limb amputations from diabetes complications.

City health officials estimate that treating health problems caused primarily by obesity in New York City costs $4 billion per year.

"The sugary drinks are the item that is most closely associated with the growth of this epidemic," Farley said.

The rule would apply to any beverage with more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are both about 100 calories per 8 ounces.

Alcoholic beverages would be exempt, as would natural fruit juices. The rule would not apply in grocery stores, except for some that also serve enough prepared food to be inspected by the city.

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