The New York City Board of Health ratified last Thursday Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on soft drinks served in containers larger than 16 ounces. The move is the first of its kind in any city across the country. New York stands at the vanguard of a movement aimed at curbing obesity and improving public health; the soda ban has sparked an important discussion and will lead to healthier choices.
Much like Mayor Bloomberg’s smoking ban in bars, restaurants, parks, and other public places, the soda ban proposal came with its fair share of controversy. Critics decried the proposal for its intrusion on everyday life, with some going as far as calling the mayor a nanny. Others participated in protests and other forms of demonstration like the Million Big Gulp March (even though the ban excludes 7-11 Big Gulps) to send a message to government to keep its hands off people’s individual liberties.
The plan’s opponents, however, neglect the incontrovertible fact that obesity has serious negative externalities and costs. This is our self-inflicted 21st century public health crisis, much like smoking was in the last century. The government has spent decades targeting smoking, and as a result the number of adults who smoke is declining. Mayor Bloomberg isn’t touting his plan as a panacea. Rather, the soda ban represents the first step in the right direction towards addressing this crisis.
At the end of the day, you can drink as much soda as you please. The so-called “soda ban” is actually a container size restriction (but a headline or poster with those words wouldn’t catch anyone’s attention). Regardless of the plan’s name, the soda ban has succeeded in stimulating a national debate about our health, our choices, the role of government, and what we can do to solve this crisis. Once in effect, the ban will promote healthier decision making, as studies show that if the glass, plate, or portion in front of you is smaller, you will consequently eat less.
That’s why this moment is so important. That’s why Mayor Bloomberg should be applauded for standing up to the soda companies that spent millions of dollars fighting to protect their bottom line. And that’s why our lives will benefit from the container size restriction.
Editor’s Note: this post was updated with a link to a study that the mayor was citing in his support for the ban.