Yesterday, the New York City Board of Health voted 8-0 (with 1 abstention) to approve Mayor Bloomberg’s 16 ounce portion cap on sugary drinks. While industry tried to portray the Bloomberg proposal as a ban on soda and an example of government overreach, cooler heads prevailed at the Board of Health. Capping sugary drink sizes at 16 ounces at food establishments overseen by the Board doesn’t prevent anyone from drinking more than 16 ounces. It merely resets portion size defaults at these venues and will help to change societal norms once it goes into effect in six months.
Of course, the beverage industry will probably challenge the measure with a lawsuit. And they may try to delay the implementation of the portion cap until Mayor Bloomberg has left office in the hopes that the NYC legislature will overturn it. But no one can take away Mayor Bloomberg’s victory — a victory made even sweeter if you look at the history of a penny per ounce sugary drink tax in New York state. Twice, the beverage industry managed to derail sugary drink taxes at the state level (spending over $13 million in the process). Mayor Bloomberg has been a staunch supporter of the tax and his administration conceived of and supported a portion cap regulation only when it became clear a tax wouldn’t pass.
One might say that Mayor Bloomberg outsmarted the beverage industry by finding a way to circumvent the legislative process. Certainly, this measure would never have passed the New York City Council where the legislators (like many) are beholden to lobbying by deep-pocketed campaign contributors. No community in the country has yet to pass a sugary drink tax, as relentless lobbying and public relations campaigns from the beverage, grocery, convenience store, restaurant and other industries have proven to be an enormous obstacle. The New York Times reported that that industry has spent more than $1 million in NYC on a public relations campaign opposing 16 ounce NYC portion cap.
New York City, which has seen a statistically significant drop in childhood obesity rates, once again leads the nation in putting the health of its citizens first. Mayor Bloomberg’s portion cap will likely lower sugary drink consumption and has already started a nationwide discussion about out-of-whack norms when it comes to food and drink portion sizes.