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Bloomberg’s proposed soda cap gets new life

By Maggie Hennessy , 02-May-2014
Last updated on 02-May-2014 at 15:25 GMT

CSPI's Jim O'Hara: “The bottom line is, controlling portion size is a commonsense approach to the public health crisis we’re facing. We know that portion size influences peoples’ consumption, and we know that portion sizes have risen dramatically over the years.
CSPI's Jim O'Hara: “The bottom line is, controlling portion size is a commonsense approach to the public health crisis we’re facing. We know that portion size influences peoples’ consumption, and we know that portion sizes have risen dramatically over the years."

Two amicus (friend of the court) legal briefs have been filed in support of New York City’s proposed cap on sugary drink portions, saying the rule is a sensible step toward stemming the tide of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related chronic illnesses. 

“The amicus brief is a reminder of what this rule is about: protecting the health of New Yorkers,” said newly appointed city health commissioner Mary Bassett. “Corporate lawsuits and well-financed marketing campaigns do not change the documented scientific fact that there is an obesity and diabetes epidemic in our city, with the epicenter in  our poorest neighborhoods. We must protect New Yorkers from corporate practices that value profits at the expense of their customers’ health.”

The controversial provision, introduced by former mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2012, would limit sugary beverages to containers no more than 16 ounces at foodservice establishments in New York City. After being struck down by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge and mid-level appellate court as an illegal overreach of executive power, the measure is currently in front of the state Court of Appeals. A hearing is scheduled for June 4.

The lead signatories of the amicus briefs (read the full text here ) are National Alliance for Hispanic Health and National Association of Local Boards of Health. They’re joined by 30 organizations and health experts, including Comunilife, Montefiore Medical Center, Harlem Health Promotion Center, National Congress of Black Women, Inc., New York Chapter, ChangeLab Solutions, Rudd Center, Public Health Association of New York City and Public Health Law Center.

The supporting groups flag such issues as the disproportionate numbers of minorities with obesity-related health problems, attributing that in part to the targeted marketing to specific ethnic groups by beverage companies. They also cite the rising incidence of obesity in children as an especially devastating effect of failing to address portion control in sugary drinks, noting that obese children are more likely to be obese adults with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease and a shorter life expectancy.

Measure is one piece of a bigger strategy to attack the public health crisis related to SSB

“The bottom line is, controlling portion size is a commonsense approach to the public health crisis we’re facing,” Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told FoodNavigator-USA. “We know that portion size influences peoples’ consumption, and we know that portion sizes have risen dramatically over the years. The approach that New York City is taking is very measured and tailored and needs to be seen as one piece of a comprehensive strategy to attack the public health crisis related to sugary drinks. Given the rise in obesity rates and type 2 diabetes we see, it makes a lot of sense.”

But at issue here is more than what’s right from a public health standpoint, as the court must decide if the city's board of health has the authority to make such a sweeping change without approval from the city council. 

“In two previous decisions, the courts have unanimously agreed the Board of Health did not have the authority to pass this regulation; and we are confident in those decisions,” Chris Gindlesperger, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, told us. “We look forward to a final resolution of this issue, as the soda ban would limit consumer choice and have a negative impact on businesses throughout the city.”

He noted that a number of amici have filed briefs—from council members to the Washington Legal Foundation to the Business Council of New York State and the National Supermarket Association to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—all of which are pending approval by the court.

Current mayor Bill de Blasio also supports the measure, despite that a recent Quinnipiac poll revealed that 57% of New Yorkers would like to see it scrapped.

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