Mayor Bloomberg Calls For Ban On Sugary Drinks

New York City's mayor wants to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces from being sold at restaurants, delis and other venues to combat obesity. It's not the first time Mayor Bloomberg has taken on the soda industry. The announcement is prompting objections from beverage distributors — and from some New Yorkers who say they're fed up with the crusades of so-called Nanny Bloomberg.

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The mayor of the nation's largest city is proposing a new approach to a national problem, obesity. In restaurants, movie theaters and some other establishments, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to stop the sales of super-sized soft drinks. Put simply, the proposal is to ban big cups.

And as NPR's Joel Rose reports, that is prompting objections from the beverage industry and from other New Yorkers.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The soda industry has been downplaying the connection between its products and weight gain since at least 1961.

CONNIE CLAUSEN: Now for a lively lift, ice-cold Coca-Cola. There's no waistline worry with Coke, you know? Actually, this individual size bottle has no more calories than half a grapefruit.

ROSE: Of course, the model actress Connie Clausen is holding in the ad is only about seven ounces. That's a fraction of the supersized 32-ounce beverages you can find today at fast food restaurants in New York. And city officials say those giant portions are partly to blame for the obesity epidemic in New York and the rest of the country.

Dr. Thomas Farley is New York's commissioner for health and mental hygiene.

DR. THOMAS FARLEY: There's something about just sugar water as a product which leads to long-term weight gain. And that's been recognized not just by me, but by health experts all over the country.

ROSE: Today, Farley laid out the details of New York City's plan to cap serving sizes of sugary drinks at 16 ounces, as soon as next March. The proposed rule would cover sodas, sweetened teas, vitamin waters and more. But the size restriction would not apply in grocery stores, only in restaurants, movie theaters, delis and food carts. Still, reaction from the soda industry was swift and predictably negative.

Kevin Keane is a vice president at the American Beverage Association.

KEVIN KEANE: When you look at the entirety of sugar-sweetened beverages in American diet, it count for only seven percent of the calories in the American diet. Yet Mayor Bloomberg wants to assign a hundred percent of the blame. It just doesn't add up.

ROSE: A lot of New Yorkers seem to share that skepticism. Bruce Kim manages a deli in Lower Manhattan.

BRUCE KIM: It's definitely not going to be a plus for sure, and I wouldn't like it as a retailer. So I think that they should just leave it alone. Yeah, that's my opinion (unintelligible).

ROSE: Others worry about the economic impact on consumers. Mural Haj(ph) says the proposed ban might be especially tough on people in the South Bronx where he's from.

MURAL HAJ: In the economy that we're in right now, where it's costly to be healthy, if you take away those sugary drinks where it happens to be the more of the cheaper drinks, then what are we going to drink?

ROSE: Jennifer Most(ph) of Manhattan says this time the nanny state has gone too far.

JENNIFER MOST: I think they're kind of insane. I think people have the right to make their own choices about what they eat. And people have the right to make choices about what they sell. I think it's definitely an overreach.

ROSE: City officials have heard some of these complaints before when the Bloomberg administration passed a ban on indoor smoking, back in 2003. Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson points out the smoking ban is now widely popular, and he thinks, eventually, the proposed soda ban will be too.

HOWARD WOLFSON: People who were originally against it have now quit smoking, come up to the mayor and say thank you for doing this. I would never have been able to quit smoking without that. I suspect that in five years or 10 years, you're going to have people going up to this mayor and the city and say, thank you for doing that because this is what helped me lose weight and saved my life.

ROSE: But in the meantime, city officials are bracing for a supersized fight from the restaurant and beverage industries.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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