New York sugary drinks ban goes into effect

Public health experts around the nation — and the restaurant and soft-drink industry — will be watching closely to see whether the new restrictions on supersized colas, adopted Thursday by the city's Board of Health, lead to changes in the way New Yorkers eat and drink.

Richard Drew/AP/File
This photo from shows a display of various size cups and sugar cubes at a news conference at New York's City Hall.

Over a decade, New York City has outlawed smoking in bars and offices, banned trans fats, and forced fast-food restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus.

Now, the Big Apple has set its sights on sugary beverages with a first-in-the-nation rule barring restaurants, cafeterias and concessions stands from selling soda and other calorie-rich drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Will it make a difference, or be just another health lifestyle initiative that people ignore?

Public health experts around the nation — and the restaurant and soft-drink industry — will be watching closely to see whether the new restrictions on supersized colas, adopted Thursday by the city's Board of Health, lead to changes in the way New Yorkers eat and drink.

No other U.S. city has tried to fight the obesity epidemic by restricting portion sizes at restaurants, but city officials said they were willing to take dramatic action as a way of getting a skeptical public to embrace the idea that empty-calorie foods are a menace.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't mince words Thursday in describing the role that sugary beverages have played in the obesity epidemic: He likened the restrictions on caloric soft drinks to banning lead paint, and cited the surge in young children being diagnosed with a type of diabetes more commonly found in overweight adults.

"We are dealing with a crisis ... we need to act on this," said Board of Health member Deepthiman Gowda, a professor of medicine at Columbia University.

So will New Yorkers listen, or simply get their next 20-ounce soda at the many thousands of convenience stores and supermarkets not covered by the rule?

By nature, many are likely to see the restrictions as an infringement on personal liberty. A New York Times poll last month showed that six in 10 New Yorkers opposed the rule.

"It's a slippery slope. When does it stop? What comes next?" said Sebastian Lopez, a college student from Queens, adding that even though he isn't much of a soda drinker, "This is my life. I should be able to do what I want."

The regulations apply to any establishment with a food-service license, from the delis and theaters of Broadway, to the concession stands at Yankee Stadium and the pizzerias of Little Italy.

There are exceptions for beverages made mostly of milk or unsweetened fruit juice.

Complying might prove complicated for some establishments, and health officials said they would set up a process for restaurants to submit recipes if there was a question about what drinks were covered.

Starbucks is trying to figure out whether it will be barred from selling Frappuccinos in the 24-ounce size. Thedrink is loaded with calories, but is also made with a significant amount of milk. New York's new rule would exempt products that are at least 50 percent milk.

Another issue could be iced coffee, which many cafes sweeten with liquefied sugar. Customers might now have to add the sweetener themselves.

"We're looking at all of our beverages internally," said Starbucks spokeswoman Linda Mills. "I think there will be a lot of subtleties to work out."

Restaurants with self-serve soda fountains will be prohibited from giving out cups larger than 16 ounces, even for diet sodas, but people will still be allowed refills.

Pitchers of non-diet soda will become a thing of the past, even if they are being shared by many diners.

Barring any court action, the measure will take effect in March.

The restaurant and beverage industries complained that the city is exaggerating the role sugary beverages have played in making Americans fat. Soda, they said, is no more of a culprit than potato chips, or sweet deserts.

"This is a political solution and not a health solution," said Eliot Hoff, a spokesman for an industry-sponsored group called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, which claims to have gathered more than 250,000 signatures on petitions against the plan.

He said the group is considering suing to block the rule, but no immediate legal action was announced Thursday.

Asked whether he was concerned about "well-funded" opposition from an industry with deep pockets, Bloomberg, a billionaire emerging as a major philanthropist on public health issues, suggested he wouldn't be outgunned.

"I don't know it's well-funded. I've just spent roughly $650 million of my own money to try to stop the scourge of tobacco, and I'm looking for another cause. How much were they spending, again?" he said.

The Board of Health approved the big-soda ban 8-0, with one member, Dr. Sixto Caro, abstaining. Caro, a doctor of internal medicine, said the plan wasn't comprehensive enough.

Others spoke forcefully of the need for action to deal with an obesity crisis.

"I feel to not act would really be criminal," said board member Susan Klitzman, director of the Urban Public Health Program at Hunter College.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to New York sugary drinks ban goes into effect
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today