The Soda Ban and the Power of the Board of Health

| July 24, 2012 9:58 AM

In September 2006, the city’s Board of Health announced it was weighing whether to require chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus.

The goal of the regulation, the city’s Department of Health argued, was to address obesity – at the time more than half of adult New Yorkers were said to be overweight or obese.

Photo courtesy of Gotham Gazette.

The industry mobilized to stop the plan. Weeks of debate and a public hearing followed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg loudly championed the proposal and, in December, the Board voted unanimously to amend the health code with the new regulation, spurring the restaurant industry to unsuccessfully sue to stop it.

On Tuesday, the Board of Health will hear from the public on another contentious proposal aimed at tackling the obesity crisis – a ban on the sale of soda sizes larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, mobile carts, delis, movie theaters, arenas and stadiums or any other venue that receives a city health inspection. The proposal has stirred up the hostility of the beverage industry.

Critics and other observers say they expect the script to largely follow previous efforts to pass new regulations, with the final decision up to the Board’s group of 11 physicians, public health experts and scientists, including the health commissioner — all appointed by the mayor.

James Colgrove, a public health historian and the author of “Epidemic City: The Politics of Public Health in New York,” said that since its beginning the Board has had “very sweeping powers” – but that it had grown increasingly influential under the Bloomberg administration.

“Bloomberg has made public health a centerpiece of his mayoral administration in a way that no other mayor has,” he said.

Some elected officials – including City Council members – and business leaders have criticized the Board’s increasing importance.

Continue reading at Gotham Gazette

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