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25 July 2012

New York debates proposed ban on surgary drinks

New York faced the next step in a battle over large sugary drinks, with the soft drink and restaurant industries protesting the proposal and the public lining up to have its say.

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New York faced the next step in a bitter battle over large sugary drinks, with the soft drink and restaurant industries protesting the mayor's proposed ban and the public lining up to have its say.

Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal in May, opponents have accused him of trying to institute a "nanny state" with government controls that infringe on individual choice. City officials, meanwhile, argue they are trying to save lives in the face of an obesity epidemic that is killing New Yorkers and costing $4 billion a year.

"Soda in large amounts is metabolically toxic," Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said before a public hearing on the proposal. "It's obvious that this is the right thing to do."

But City Councilman Daniel Halloran III called the proposal a "feel-good placebo" that would hurt profit margins at small businesses while failing to improve anyone's health.

Halloran questioned whether a limit on the size of steaks was next. The Board of Health is scheduled to vote on the measure September 13. "This year an estimated 5 800 New Yorkers will die because they are obese or overweight," Bloomberg said.

'The ban will do little'

But more than 100 people gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest, many wearing T-shirts that read, "I picked out my beverage all by myself." Some protesters said they worked for Coca-Cola, while others represented the restaurant industry.

The protesters called on the administration to target obesity by improving access to physical education and better educating the public. They argued that the proposed ban will do little to curb weight gain.

In a letter released by The New England Journal of Medicine, New York University researchers said the ban could affect nearly two-thirds of drinks bought at the city's fast-food restaurants, according to a survey of more than 1600 receipts. The rule would apply to sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (450 grams). Drinks that are more than half milk or 70% juice would be exempt, as would diet sodas.

The proposal would apply only to food carts and to establishments regulated by the city's Health Department, including restaurants, sports arenas and movie theatres. Grocery stores, drug stores and some convenience stores are regulated by the state and would be unaffected.

Bloomberg acknowledged that it's not only sugary drinks that are to blame for weight gain, but he said the sweet liquids are especially bad because they contain "empty calories that flood our bodies with sugar without making us feel full."

(Sapa, July 2012)

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