Why Mayor Bloomberg’s Ban on Big Soda is Stupid

Last Thursday, I appeared on Jane Velez-Mitchell’s show on HLN to talk about the public policy hullabaloo of the moment. My sleepy little hometown of NYC made the news when our Mayor for life, Michael Bloomberg, had another brilliant idea for the public shaming of fat people public health – outlawing the sale of sodas in excess of 16 oz. Of course, the rhetoric from the mayor’s office is all about how soda leads to obesity, and obesity is the scourge of our age, worse than the bubonic plague and alien robots put together. (Or something like that.)

soda soft drink 2 liter bottles on shelf at supermarket
Soda...from hell!!! (Image courtesy of wikipedia)

The lawyer part of me thinks that this ban is completely idiotic from a public policy standpoint, and the fat activist side of me agrees and thinks that the obesity rhetoric surrounding all of this is wrong and also completely idiotic.

So let’s think about the actual effects of the proposed ban. What are the actual effects vs. the supposed, heralded effects?

First of all, I think people will find a way around it. If you really want a lot of soda, and you have the money, you’ll probably just buy a bunch of 16 oz bottles or cups, or maybe you’ll drive over the border into the free counties of Nassau or Bergen and stock up on contraband 2-liter bottles. So if you think about it, the people who will be most affected by the ban are poorer people living in NYC.



ny times soda ban infographic
The actual NYC soda ban proposal as an infographic (Image courtesy of the NY Times)

Years back, because of wonderful things like rent control, people with not a lot of money rubbed elbows with wealthier New Yorkers. But in Giuliani/Bloomberg NYC, poorer New Yorkers have continually been pushed to the margins of the city, both geographically and figuratively. And when I listen to the rhetoric around obesity here in New York and all over the country, being fat is always conflated with being poor and/or being uneducated. And there’s this concept in the background that people in these categories don’t know what’s good for them and need the government to come in and make rules about how they live their lives. Personally, I think this is a dangerous precedent for a local government to set.

Also, there’s a slope here that feels inherently slippery. What might be banned next? So much of our food has high fructose corn syrup in it. I’m not particularly happy about that, as there’s a lot of evidence that it impacts blood sugar more deleteriously than plain ol’ table sugar, but Mayor Bloomberg would have to ban most of the food in our grocery stores for it to be avoided.

I also wonder if this ban will lead people to drink more water, which, as I understand it, is the goal of the program (other than this amorphous idea that it will stem the tide of obesity). But why would it lead people to drink more water? If people still want a big soda, they’ll just drink diet soda, right? According to the completely baseless calories in/calories out model touted by diet companies, diet soda is not a bad choice. But some evidence suggests that our bodies have the same insulin response to fake sugars as to real sugars, except that fake sugars make us more hungry. In other words, fake sugars are less satisfying and may lead us to eat more than we would otherwise eat, thereby cancelling out any calorie-lowering effect of the fake-sugar-laden diet soda.

My final question is, what is the cost of all this? Will we need a Department of Soda Inspection to make sure that the right sizes are being sold at C Town? Will we need the refill police to come in and arrest perps who refill with regular soda? The last time I went to my local park, the grass hadn’t been cut in months and part of the sidewalk was all broken up. It would be so lovely for some of that soda ban money to go to cleaning up this wonderful and historic park so that kids, fat and thin alike, would have more room to play this summer. There’s a huge, beautiful pool there, too, that’s only open in July and August. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the city paid for lifeguards so that the pool could be open now through mid-September, so that kids, fat and thin alike (and grown ups, too), could go there after school or work and cool down and swim?

My fellow fat activists and I, as well as Health At Every Size friends and researchers, have said it again and again – the stress of stigma is unhealthy. So when governments set public health policies based on ending obesity, what they’re really saying is, “There is a group of people that are making us look bad by being fat, and we want to have them to look different.” Public officials can say that when they talk about obesity they’re really talking about health, but then why not just talk about health? Thin people get heart disease and cancer and arthritis and diabetes. There are more and more studies coming out showing that healthy lifestyles (eating well and exercising and essentially enjoying your life) are more indicative of health and lifespan than fatness. So the continued focus on obesity is just a big, fat red herring.

If we really care about public health, let’s focus on health for all of us and get the most bang for our collective buck by focusing on what really makes people healthy – access to fresh food, safe places to move and play, and a society that doesn’t stigmatize people’s bodies.

Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. Go to to get her NEW free gift – Golda’s Top 5 Tips For Consistently Feeling Great In Your Body!

9 replies on “Why Mayor Bloomberg’s Ban on Big Soda is Stupid”

I know you touched on this, but how do you enforce this law? Round my neck of the woods if you buy a coffee they just hand you a cup and point you to the carafes and the sugar/creamer station. Is a health inspector going to sit and watch to make sure no one puts sugar into a big cup of coffee? And if they do, who is at fault? The coffee house? The customer? What about refills? If I only buy a 12oz cup but fill it up three times am I in trouble? And whatever fines you put on this they would have to be pretty punitive to cover the overhead of the number of new inspectors needed to enforce it.

And why for the love of God are juice, smoothies, and lattes exempt? Where does that make sense? Apple juice is one of the most sugar laden substances ever, and it doesn’t do too well on the whole providing vitamins front. Sugar in your latte is no different than sugar in your coffee.

I can think of better ways to promote healthy choices than this without even working too hard. Give a tax kick back to places that serve non-empty calorie beverages so they can offer them at the same price as pop*, or ones that go with local whole food type stuff so they can make their prices more accessible. I like the suggestion of making parks clean, safe, and accessible. Give a tax deduction on gym memberships.

*It typically costs companies more for the cup than the soda in the cup. That is why companies will make giant super gulp crap cheap and then reduce the portions of the food they serve you.

I’ve been here for all three Bloomberg terms now and I really hate the moral vice agenda he pushes (cigarettes, soda, what you can buy on food stamps). What bugs me the most is that in attempting to pass, or passing laws like this, he ends up pissing on the people who are struggling the most, instead of going after the larger corporations that really have the most power. Why not pass a law saying that soda companies can only put x amount of sugar in their drinks? Why not make a law that bans soda advertising in public schools? It’s easier for Bloomberg to go after minor moral acts, rather than actually deal with the larger problem of food deserts, nutrition programs, and accessibility.

Also, considering the fact that he just cut a large percent of WIC’s educational food programs, I think I’ll just wrap this up with a hell no.

I can see how standardising portion sizes – and perhaps re-sizing them – would be a good idea from a public health perspective, but this way of doing it seems narrow (only restricted to sugar) and arbitrary. Artificial sweeteners aren’t problem-free health-wise.  Also surely it’s going to contribute to more plastic waste.

I can’t say I agree with this. The way that America seems to view “portion” and the apparent relationship with unhealthy food are quite shocking. To do something about both of those factors doesn’t seem unreasonable. And this legislation would seek to do something within the realms of encouraging healthy eating.

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