Mayor Michael Bloomberg's lawyers were back in court Tuesday making the case that the proposed New York City ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces is good policy. A new report from Columbia University suggests they might be right.
The much-discussed proposal would make it illegal for restaurants, movie theatres, sports arenas and stadiums in the city to sell sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces. The ban would not apply to grocery stores or bodegas. In March, on the eve of the day the ban was set to go into effect, a New York City Supreme Court judge said the administration was putting "arbitrary and capricious" limits on consumption.
In appeals court, Justice David Friedman said that putting a limit on sugary sodas could open the door to more government regulation, saying it's not out of the realm of possibility for the administration to seek limits on "the number of donuts a person could eat, [or ] the number of scoops of ice cream" a person could eat, according to CBS News.
Others have argued that the ban would disproportionately affect lower-income people, who tend to consume more sugary beverages than those who earn higher wages, and who would presumably have a tougher time circumventing the ban by purchasing two smaller sodas in one sitting. But the Columbia University study, published Wednesday in the American Society for Nutrition, suggests that the ban would likely have its intended effect.
By tracking data from more than 19,000 people from around the country, lead researcher Claire Wang found that though obese people tend to consume large sodas from restaurants, people eligible for food stamps are less likely to do so.
According to her research, about 68 percent of people who are eligible for food stamps have soda on any given day, compared to 54 percent of people who aren't eligible for food stamps. But those sodas rarely come from restaurants – the percentage of people the ban would affect is roughly the same regardless of income level. The effect, she says, is that the ban would affect the overweight and not the poor.
"We didn't see any evidence that this law would disproportionately impact low income earners," she says. "One possible explanation is they tend to consume them outside of restaurants."
According to Wang, about 7.5 percent of Americans consume a large soda from a restaurant on any given day; about 11 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 44 consume a large soda from a restaurant.
"This law would impact overweight individuals more than those who aren't overweight," she says. "Will it completely reverse the obesity epidemic? I don't know, but it would have a real effect."
On average, the ban would cut out about 100 calories for those people (assuming they don't buy two drinks instead), Wang says.
"If you're thinking about energy balance, then cutting out these unnecessary calories, which by no means are nutritious, the other things you're doing to keep active become more meaningful," Wang says.
There's still no word on when the appeals court will decide on Bloomberg's soda ban, but the city's lawyer, Fay Ng, said that the law is based on science and would help the city curb obesity and diabetes, which is up 44 percent in the city since 2002, according to a report released by the city's health department Monday.
Richard Bress, an attorney for the American Beverage Association, said in court that it doesn't matter whether the law would help fight obesity and that the law represents "a breathtaking example of agency overreach."
"For the first time, this agency is telling the public how much of a safe and lawful beverage it can drink," Bress said. "This is the government coercing lifestyle decisions."