NYC’s Soda Ban Passes, But Will It Really Reduce Obesity Levels?

September 13, 2012  |  

Image: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The New York City Board of Health today passed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban, prohibiting the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. The ban will go into effect March 2013 and will impact restaurants, food trucks, movie theaters and lots of other places where these large drinks are typically sold.

The ban passed eight to zero (there was an abstention, a vacancy and an absence) despite opposition from the large sugary drink companies themselves and many voters. All of the voting board members said they took the opposition into account, but felt they had to act in the face of sky-high obesity rates.

The black community has been hit hard by this epidemic. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, “African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese.”

Many question whether this will really have an impact on the issue it’s trying to tackle. Earlier this month, filmmaker Byron Hurt led a discussion about obesity and weight-related disease after a screening of his documentary Soul Food Junkies. The film takes a closer look at Byron’s dad who died of pancreatic cancer but, before that, spent his life eating unhealthy soul food. In the post-viewing discussion about diet and health, the soda ban, and the widespread skepticism of the policy among African-Americans, came up.

“Panelist and author Marc Lamont Hill answered that Americans have a healthy distrust of government. Mr. Hill continued by saying that government bans are often ineffective as ‘the government does not invest in providing people with a healthier alternative,'” The Wall Street Journal reports.

This is a valid point. You can put all the laws in place that you want. If there’s no alternative, people will keep doing what they’re doing. There’s no rule against buying multiple small sodas. The whole point of the ban goes out the window.

Right now, it just sounds like the government’s overstepping, getting in people’s personal business where it doesn’t belong. If the city can also come up with ways to make healthier drink options more affordable and accessible, then feelings about the government’s intentions could shift. Part of the problem is food policy, which drives up the cost of healthy food. That’s an issue that goes above and beyond what the city can do. But there have been rumblings about adding drinking fountains around the city, a great option. Make refillable water bottles widely available for free, and you might have more people drinking water instead of soda.

What do you think of the soda ban?

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