Board of Health Approves Cap on Size of Sugary Drinks

Left to right: Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs and Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner developers, congratulate each other at a press event following the passage of the ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces. Flickr/ nycmayorsoffice

In an expected move today, the city’s Board of Health approved 8-0 with one abstention Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposal to limit to 16 ounces the size of sugary beverages sold in food service establishments. While the Bloomberg administration said the so-called “soda ban” was intended to curtail the growing obesity and diabetes epidemics in the city, the proposal was unpopular among New Yorkers and fiercely fought by the beverage lobby.

But regardless of public opinion or business interests, the Board of Health — all mayoral appointees — sided with the mayor.

“Today’s vote is a historic and important step in fighting New York City’s epidemics of obesity and diabetes. It continues the long tradition of this Board of Health leading the charge against major health problems of the day,” said Health Commissioner Farley at a press conference following the vote. “It is my hope that in the future we will see today as a turning point in epidemics that each year claims the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Also unsurprising, the tech-conscious mayor took to Twitter to congratulate the board and the city.

“NYC’s new sugary drink policy is the single biggest step any gov’t has taken to curb obesity,” he tweeted. “It will help save lives.”

The measure will take effect in March 2013, unless stopped by a judge, which is a possibility.

“This is not the end,” Eliot Hoff, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, an industry-financed group opposed to the restriction, wrote in an email to The New York Times. “We are exploring legal options, and all other avenues available to us.”

The new ruling says sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces cannot be sold in establishments that receive inspection grades from the health department,  which includes fast food chains, movie theaters and concession stands — in other words, in places that pour soft drinks from a fountain dispenser. Convenience stores are exempt — including 7-Eleven, known for its infamous Big Gulp;  vending machines and newsstands are exempt as well. It will affect not only sodas but also energy drinks, lemonade and pre-sweetened iced teas. Fruit juices, dairy-based drinks and alcoholic beverages are not included under the proposal.

At the press conference following the vote, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner said the Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets and set to open in Brooklyn next week, would voluntarily abide by the new rules.

“Barclays Center is thrilled to work with the Mayor and the city to help achieve the Mayor’s public health goals,” said Ratner. “New York City has set a standard for the country and the world when it comes to public health and we are very proud to be the first to adopt the standards for sugary beverages in our new venue.”


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