Battle of the bulge

THE battle of the bulge has begun in right earnest in New York, with mayor Michael Bloomberg being caught in the middle of a raging controversy over his proposal to ban large sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theatres and even sports stadiums.

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Published: Tue 19 Jun 2012, 9:39 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 12:46 AM

Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (about 450 gm) at public places, though consumers can buy super-size sugary drinks at grocery and convenience stores. Vendors of such drinks will have to pay a hefty $200 fine for violating the proposed law.

Expectedly, the powerful beverages industry has unleashed a counter-attack through a blitz of media advertising, accusing the New York mayor of trampling on consumers’ right to decide what to eat or drink. The industry is also expected to challenge the proposed ban in courts.

Bloomberg’s move has pitted public health officials and healthcare experts against the beverage lobby and civil liberties activists. It has also divided the nation, with a recent American Mosaic Reuters/Ipsos poll indicating that nearly two-thirds of respondents would be opposed to the introduction of a similar ban in their cities.

While 70 per cent of US adults quizzed online said the move would not lower obesity rates, a majority also said that were such a rule to come into force, it would make them change their drinking habits by switching over to water or low-calorie drinks. The US is experiencing an obesity epidemic, with more than one in three American adults being obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner, notes that reducing obesity by just 10 per cent in the city would save about 500 lives a year. Defending the proposed ban, he compares the opposition to it to the initial protests against the ban on public smoking about 10 years ago. But after the smoking ban, the number of adult smokers in New York has dropped from 20 per cent to 14 per cent, he claims.

Indeed, while the tobacco industry is now virtually reconciled to being smothered under the anti-smoking juggernaut, the fast-food and beverages sectors are gearing up to face similar hectoring from public health activists and consumer bodies.

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