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Would the Bloomberg Soda Ban Unfairly Target Poor People?

July 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

by Mommy MD Guide Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD

Portion sizes have grown and so have we. Today’s kid-size soda at McDonalds (12 ounces, 110 calories) is 70 percent larger than the regular size (7 ounces) of the ’50s, and 32-ounce big gulps (310 calories) and food buckets wouldn’t have been fathomed several decades ago.

Are portion sizes to blame for our overeating? The obesity epidemic has multiple roots, but there’s very little doubt that when presented with larger portions, people tend to eat more, and that social norms affect what we perceive as acceptable behavior. So yes, most experts do see portion sizes and their attractive prices as culprits in the obesity crisis.

Last year, in an effort to shift the default portion size to something a little more logical, New York City proposed to cap the size of sugary drinks sold in food service to 16 ounces. It’s been a bumpy road for this proposed law, which was blocked this spring a day before it was supposed to take effect.

The free-choice and stay-out-of-my-business opposition to the proposed law is understandable, and I’m not going to get into it here. Will the cap reduce waistlines? If such a law ever passes, we’ll get to see if the predicted reductions in consumption play out.

The interesting question a new study set out to answer focuses on the argument that the so-called soda ban isn’t fair because it disproportionately affects low-income people.

Soda cap would target the overweight.

The new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition from the Columbia University School of Health looked at the dietary records of almost 20,000 people, and found that about 60 percent of people consume sugary drinks on any given day, and of those, about 7.5 percent order a larger than 16-ounce cup. Two thirds of the large-size cups are bought at fast food restaurants.

The large-size purchases were more common in teens, young adults, and overweight and obese people. Although low-income people did buy more sugary drinks, they weren’t more likely to buy large ones.

This analysis suggests that capping soda at 16 ounces could disproportionately affect young people who are overweight or obese. The researchers calculated that if the cap led 80 percent of the people who order larger drinks to downsize to a 16 ounce, it would shave about 60 calories daily.

They, of course, don’t have to. Under the NYC proposal, anyone’s free to order as many 16-ounce drinks as they wish. The cap would just change the beverage landscape a little bit, and give people pause to consider whether the second 16 ounce is addressing thirst or habit.

Then, of course, even without the law in place, the endless debate and uproar against it is already doing that, so even without passage, the sugary drink cap is, I think, already a success.

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