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NYC ban on sugary sodas: Does it really target obesity?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Why banning sugary sodas in NYC is doomed to fail.

Cornell University experts are taking exception with the proposed ban on sugary drinks in New York City. One of the reasons is that the proposed sugary soda drink ban is targeting beverages; not obesity. Food marketing experts say imposing such a ban is likely to lead to failure; dong little more than making smart consumers - who are going to get what they want anyway - angry.

The concerns over the soda ban come from David Just and Brian Wansink, food marketing experts and professors at Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management who suggest the proposed ban is targeting just a group of consumers who specifically buy sodas.

David Just wonders why they’re avoiding other high calorie sugary drinks, like fruit juices and chocolate shakes.

He says in a press release, “This proposed ban is targeting a certain group of people. I also worry that this is a little bit of a regressive tax: It is not directly targeting obesity; it is targeting soda. Sodas overall are a pretty small part of the equation when it comes to obesity.”

One proposal is to ‘reward’ consumers for purchasing discounted diet Just also suggests fast-food restaurants should be encouraged to provide low-calorie, healthy menu options.

Studies have shown high numbers of fast food restaurants per capita contributes to obesity. Offering lower calorie foods in areas with fewer fresh markets are available seems to make better sense.

The proposal to ban sodas in New York City targets ‘super-size’ sugared soft drinks specifically, but most consumers are likely to see the move as an infringement on personal liberties.

The American Beverage Association and the National Restaurant Association are balking at the move that would ban 16 ounce sugar laden soda sales at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas; to be decided at the June 12 meeting of the Board of Health.

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Food marketing experts David Just and Brian Wansink aren’t the only ones who view the soda ban as a bad idea.

Bloomberg reports Heather Oldani, a McDonald’s spokeswoman stated in an e-mail, “This is a complex topic, and one that requires a more collaborative and comprehensive approach.”

According to Oldani, the ban won’t address the public health issue of obesity because it’s “narrowly focused and misguided”.

Sugary soft drinks add calories to American diets and New York City officials think they are a major driver of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Cornell’s Brian Wansink who directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and authored the best seller "Mindless Eating", said in a media release, “People buying super-sized sodas want their 32-ounce soft drinks and will find a work-around to the ban. They’ll go to a place that offers fountain refills, or they’ll buy two. If they don’t have much money, they might cut back on fruits or vegetables or a bit of their family meal budget.”

He suggests New York City find better ways to help their residents stay healthy with lower-calorie options. He explains soft drink companies and restaurants aren’t selling sugar – they’re selling beverages.

“We should be encouraging sales of healthier beverages – using a carrot instead of a stick. This approach would be welcomed by struggling retailers and manufacturers alike.”

Banning sodas in New York City isn’t likely to target obesity because it’s just a small part of obesity epidemic that the Cornell food experts view as doomed for failure. Consumers are already cutting back on soda consumption as they become more health conscious. Focusing on selling healthy beverages and discounting diet drinks seems to make a lot more sense that would provide “win-win” opportunities for curbing obesity said Just.

Cornell Press Office
June 1, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile