NEW YORK -- New York opened a new national front in the war on obesity Thursday, banning sales of big sodas and other sugary drinks at the city’s restaurants and other eateries. Protesters, backed by the soda industry, had complained about government intrusion on personal choices.
The unprecedented ban strikes at the growing portion sizes in the U.S., where two-thirds of adults and almost a third of children are either overweight or obese. Health experts, doctors and some prominent chefs, such as Jamie Oliver, support the ban.
But soda makers and sellers, nervous that other cities will follow New York’s lead, say the ban unfairly singles out soft drinks for blame. A soft-drink industry sponsored group called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices is considering a lawsuit, spokesman Eliot Hoff said.
The ban, proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, puts a 16-ounce (.4 liter, or 453-gram) limit on cups and bottles of non-diet soda, sweetened teas and other calorie-packed beverages.
After Thursday’s vote, Bloomberg’s official Twitter feed tweeted: "NYC’s new sugary drink policy is the single biggest step any gov’t has taken to curb (hash)obesity. It will help save lives."
The ban will apply in fast-food restaurants, movie houses and Broadway theaters, workplace cafeterias, and most other places selling prepared food. It doesn’t cover beverages sold in supermarkets or most convenience stores. It also doesn’t apply to lower-calorie drinks, such as water or diet soda, or to alcoholic beverages or drinks that are more than half milk or 70 percent juice.
Other ambitious health moves by New York have become national pacesetters, such as making chain restaurants post calorie counts prominently on their menus. A federal requirement could force all major fast-food chains to do it next year.
New York City also has barred artificial trans fats from restaurant food and taken aggressive steps to discourage smoking.
Some doctors and nutrition experts say the sugary drink ban starts a conversation that could change attitudes toward overeating. While there are many factors in obesity, "ultimately it does come down to culture, and it comes down to taking some first steps," said Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, a Mount Sinai School of Medicine professor who has studied the effect of government regulation on the obesity epidemic.
Enforcement of the new ban would be conducted by an existing corps of city restaurant inspectors. A violation would lead to a $200 fine.