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“New Yorkers are smart enough to decide for themselves what to eat and drink. There is no evidence that banning drinks over 16 ounces will have an impact on obesity.”
— Eliot Hoff, spokesman, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices
When Michael Bloomberg was sworn in as New York City mayor in 2002, no one could have known the extent to which he would try to legislate and regulate the city’s health. As he closes out his third and final term in office, it’s all anyone in the food industry can talk about.
“New Yorkers are smart enough to decide for themselves what to eat and drink,” said Eliot Hoff, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, an opposition group that has been fighting the latest proposal from the city’s “nanny mayor”: A ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks — those over 16 ounces — in restaurants, sports arenas, movie theaters and other venues.
“There is no evidence that banning drinks over 16 ounces will have an impact on obesity,” Hoff continued.
Free enterprise and public policy have locked horns before, but the focus on diet and food has put supermarkets and restaurants squarely in the middle of the debate. Retailers are being recruited for the mayor’s “Shop Healthy” anti-obesity campaign launched earlier this summer. The voluntary program asks supermarkets and bodegas in the Fordham and West Farms neighborhoods in the Bronx to display fresh produce at the front of the store or by the cash register, and substitute water and low-calorie drinks for sugared beverages on eye-level shelves. Participating grocers must carry “city-certified” healthy snacks, and add signage identifying healthy foods.
So far, more than half of the 170 stores in the two neighborhoods — targeted because nearly 70% of the adults are overweight or obese — agreed to participate.
“Obesity is a crisis that this city cannot afford to ignore,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley, likening the condition to a disease that needs to be eradicated. “If a virus were killing 5,800 New Yorkers in a single year, people would be clamoring for government action to stop it.”
The larger impact of Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts may not be felt for some time, but this month’s vote on the soda ban by the mayor-appointed Board of Health may set the stage for similar actions in other cities, and even whole states. Supporters of the mayor’s agenda recall the loud objections from bar and restaurant owners when Bloomberg banned indoor smoking in 2003. Today the regulation is described as prophetic, having become a near-universal statute throughout the United States.