My Take on the NYC Sugary Drink Size Restriction

Let me preface this post by saying that politics isn’t my thing. I will never be caught posting support or opposition for a politician or a law or regulation – especially if I know close to nothing about the topic – which is most things. You want to talk foreign affairs, taxes, educational reform, whatever it may be – I’m going to tell you that I don’t know enough to have a solid opinion and furthermore that most of you probably don’t either! (No watching a news segment and reading an opinion piece by some writer doesn’t count as “knowing the facts”.) That being said, the NYC restriction on the size of sugary drinks has gotten a lot of attention lately.

I was not planning on posting about it because from what I gathered via Twitter and the blog-o-sphere, RDs seem to be on the same page. Sarah, who blogs over at Food & Fitness Friend wrote up  great article which I agree with – s0 I suggest checking hers out for sure! However, then while I was working late one night I wandered on over to Facebook (ohh yes, good old Facebook) and saw that a woman I did my DI with had a totally separate stance saying that this is invasive and that the government should not tell us what to eat. WOAH – I thought all of us RDs were on the same page here?? Guess not. So, me being the person who loves a good debate (when I actually know what I’m taking about) was like, “oh let me just shoot from my hips and reply to this status update at 1 am”. I know – always a good idea, right? Anyway- just thought I would share my response here! It’s my blog after all!

FB Status: “Should the government tell you what to eat” – with a link to an anti-NYC sugar sweetened bev post.
My Reply: I don’t think that limiting the size of soft drinks sold is equivalent to the govt telling anyone what to eat or drink, or even the same as the govt limiting how much individuals can eat or drink. I see this as simply being a way to create a more health-promoting food environment. 16 fl. oz is the equivalent of 2 soft drinks, and research from the Framingham offspring study has shown that those who (on average) consume >1 soft drink per day have a 48% increased risk of developing the metabolic syndrome over a period of 4 years vs. non-consumers. While the plan has been touted as “educational” in nature; those against it have said, “why not just truly educate instead?” should turn to the published literature on health education. It is obvious that education is insufficient for behavior change. I’m sure this size limitation (I dislike the term “ban” since that implies total removal) will take a while to gain acceptance, as did smoking bans, trans fat bans, etc. However, those are now more commonplace and seem to be positively accepted. Sure, one can make the argument that a smoking ban is legitimate because it negatively influences the health of others besides the smoker and consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is an individual choice that only negatively influences the person drinking them. However, I would argue against that as well. It is known that average added sugar intake  in the US is much greater than it should be (~16% of total caloric intake, when dietary guidelines limit them to ~6-8% of total caloric intake). Approximately 1/2 of all added sugar intake comes from sugar-sweetened beverages (8% of total kcals). Therefore, SSBs represent a very real contributor to obesity. Research has also shown us that people (including normal weight people) consume more calories when they just SEE an overweight or obese person during meal time. Therefore, obesity can be seen as being a potential health risk factor to those who are not obese/overweight as well. Thus, public dietary guidelines which could decrease the obesity rates in the country are beneficial to all. Sorry, just kind of wrote a book there! I understand people not wanting the govt to “control their lives”, but I don’t see this proposal being all that invasive. I think the benefits certainly outweight any potential negatives. Totally open to hear what others have to say!
Reply to Me: Research also shows that those who consume diet drinks are just as likely to be obese/overweight. By singling out a specific food, we are avoiding the overall issue of overconsumption of calories and lack of physical activity. (Tanya insert – totally agree) At which point does government regulation of food choice and forcing companies to limit choices of food become to intrusive? Once started, it will continue as seen by their continued discussions of limits on popcorn and milkshakes. I disagree that education is unsuccessful. WIC is a wonderful example of that. If the message is not being clear to people, we should change how we educate. Not regulate through laws. I also question the motives since now NY will gain 2x the taxes from those purchasing 2-16oz. sodas.
My 2nd Reply: Evidence about diet soda and weight is just epi and correlation in nature, so not enough to justify it as being “bad” too. Recent evidence actually points to diet soda being as effective as water as a weight loss strategy from intervention work. WIC is not an educational program so cannot be used as evidence that education works. It is much more comprehensive than an educational program. Changing up the “way” health education is performed is probably not going to be cost-effective. Population based strategies – such as the restriction on SSBs – are generally more effective and less expensive than a high-risk strategy – such as educating those at risk/those consuming most SSBs, or whatever it may be. I totally agree that this is not the only “bad” food out there causing obesity….but 8% of total caloric intake in the country essentially coming from soda is a lot, so worth tackling I think. I am not a politically savvy person at all and thus why I will never be found discussing taxes, foreign affairs, etc because I know enough to know that I don’t know enough. When it comes to health/nutrition/weight management/effective behavioral change strategies though I think I am qualified…so from that stand point and that alone I see this as only have positive effects on the nation’s health. I just don’t see this as being intrusive, which is seemingly where we differ in opinion – which is fine….there are always a lot of good points to be brought up from all sides. I know I would never want to be a political figure trying to make positive change and keep everyone happy….just will never happen.
And there it ends. If I get another reply I will ignore it (Er’ I will TRY my hardest to ignore it despite my desire to have the last word) as I don’t have time to debate on FB. Plus I think I made all of my major points (as I’m sure no one wants me to run through the metabolic consequences of consuming too much added sugar). Except maybe this, which was part of my reply to Sarah’s post over on Food and Fitness Friend: “…I know Boston banned sugary drinks in public buildings with success, so I see no reason NYers should be so offended about the size allowed being reduced. I’ll have to track down the article, as I no longer have it saved, but research indicates that when sugary drinks were banned in Boston schools that it actually resulted in fewer sugary drinks being consumed outside of school than before their removal in school. So, like you, I am all for this….but again, could just be the nutritionist in me talking!” So basically, reducing portion sizes available at restaurants could possibly reduce SSB intake on other environments as well.

WoAh, okay, that was a long one without entertaining pictures. My apologies! Next week I have a lighter post with plenty of pictures coming. Promise! 🙂 Here is a picture of my cute little nephews staying cool on the farm until then:

If you survived  that post, what is your take on the NYC sugary drink size restriction. TOTALLY up to hearing opinions that differ,  or views of folks who can comment on it from a stand point aside from health/nutrition. I just ask that you please be respectful in your comments/discussions with myself or anyone else who may comment. If you are not, your comment will be deleted….so play nice! Also, know that I probably won’t reply to comments as I don’t and I’m sure you all don’t have the time to debate back and forth when our difference of opinion may come down to something that neither of us can “prove” the other is wrong about.

HAPPY FRIDAY, enjoy your weekend, and as always thanks for reading! 🙂


14 thoughts on “My Take on the NYC Sugary Drink Size Restriction

  1. Samantha says:

    Hello! So my first reaction when I heard about the ban to remember when I worked at Microsoft which at the time (not sure if they still do) offered free soda (unlimited). In cans. People that live on soda all day just drink can after can. And it generated a lot of garbage. People that love their soda just go through a lot of soda…regardless of how it is served.

    I LOVE bans on sodas/sugar vending in school (or least offering healthy options) however. That is just good patterning and I remember what it is like to be in junior high and buy that giant M&M cookie or the candy bar.

    I am just not a soda person so I don’t understand the big gulp anyway…now a large chocolate cake on the other hand. 🙂 I do get that soda is a major vice for a lot of people and a hard habit to break.

    The interesting thing about this size restriction is that for people that want more soda they can just buy another soda. If they are going to go as far as the “ban” they actually need to follow up with the statistics as obesity is a serious problem and I think just about everyone would be open for some ideas to help. If simply making a larger size unavailable helps that is pretty good information. Most of us were trained to eat/drink everything served and to use that as the measure of meal over rather than “full.”

    I am always interested in the education piece. Many of us know to reach for the smaller soda, the smaller candy bar, only make a single serving of dessert, etc. but many people reach for the largest option. Is it lack of education? Is it desire for the largest option?

    I imagine that as a RD you have to figure that out for each person you work with. Do they lack of the education? Or is it something else.

    I wonder if other states will try this out?

    • Tanya says:

      Usually not educational issues. People “know” the difference between healthy and unhealthy food choices. In fact, most diet recalls start off with the subject/patient/client saying, “Oh, well I was really bad yesterday. I had McDonald’s and didn’t eat any fruits or vegetables”. Research clearly indicates that education alone is insufficient for behaviour change. It is important, but it alone will not be enough for people to make the “switch” so to speak.

      • Samantha says:

        That is true, I could see that. i don’t work in your field but obviously I know the difference between a good and bad eating day. 🙂 RD are in a good position to really know at least some of the population that struggles with food and weight.

        What never ceases to amaze me is the ones that fall for the “natural” “organic” “low carb” etc. labels as somehow = a healthy food choice. At least in the area I live I see that one a lot. Even in the younger age groups who presumably have more nutritional education.

  2. Kari @ bite-sized thoughts says:

    I’ve heard a bit about this but probably not as much as there is in the US – my sense is it’s a good thing so it was interesting to read this post and get some perspective on both sides of the argument! The massive shift in serving sizes is something I really take issue with though and I can’t see that winding them back to what used to be ‘normal’ can be a bad thing.

  3. teri@managedmacros says:

    This is a ‘sticky’ debate, isn’t it?? I think I have noticed more split opinions in the dietetics profession. I’m not a big fan of this ban (size limitation, yes…better phrase!) myself but that is just my opinion, It is a GOOD thing to have opposing opinions because then that’s when both sides get seen, the pros the cons the rights the wrongs, the harm the help. Right??
    I love you for sharing…and I am going to check out Food and Fitness blog too.
    P.s…I like the pics of your nephews! 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m a big torn on the issue- I think that if it’s not available, people won’t be used to the large sizes and order them and I do think that obesity has gotten to be a big enough problem that we need to do something about it– BUT I don’t think it’s the governmebt’s role to regulate something like cup size. Seems like we’d do better by discounting healthy foods and teaching nutrition in school….

  5. Allison @ PickyEatingRD says:

    Ahhh so I see both sides of the issue. Eliminating a size that shouldn’t exist in the first place is probably a good thing. But on the other hand, where does personal responsibility come in? I don’t know that it is the government’s job to regulate what can and can’t be sold when it comes to size of the item, What about banning margaritas and chocolate martinis (just a few examples) that can carry more sugar than even that giant soda. To me the problem is much larger than eliminating one item based on size. Now, restaurants will just serve smaller sizes and have more people coming in for refills. Education is needed if any long term changes are to be made. Also, I don’t like that this is only linked to obesity. Even if you are not obese, consuming a 32oz soda is not good for you! Ok, I think I am done rambling haha.

    • Samantha says:

      I love your comments on overall sugar! I would say the same thing about the ridiculous amount of sodium that restaurant add to dishes as well. I would love to see those little changes worked on more that would do the entire population general good health. Sadly eliminating a portion size seemed “easier. “

    • Tanya says:

      Totally agree with you that 32 oz of soda is not healthy whether you have a BMI of 20 or a BMI of 40. Agree – can see both sides of the issue for sure. Tricky, tricky! Looking forward to seeing it all play out though!

  6. Sean says:

    I am all for this move. At some point the govt has to get involved in order to deal with a social issue. While ppl may not like it, there is a link to health issues that in the end cost the govt money (which, today, we have little of to go around). Example: smoking, the govt has not banned smoking, yes there are copious amounts of educational campaigns to inform of the dangers of not smoking, but those are not enough….govt involvement was needed to help (limits on smoking areas, increased taxes, etc). All of which work to an extent but ppl are still going to smoke. Which, the same is true for this, in my opinion.

    While their at it why don’t they limit the cup holder sizes in cars, thus forcing fast food companies to reduce their sizes to fit said cup holders (who would complain about the governments involvement then?). There was absolutely no backlash of seatbelt laws and mandatory airbags (haha).

    On a side note, the government already tells us what to eat. The Department of Agriculture has been “entrusted” to do this. However, that is not their primary role. Their primary existence is to oversee the economic success of the United States Agricultural industry. As a result they have chosen to identify certain foods that receive subsidies and as a result make up a large proportion of our American diet (ie. corn (and its derivatives) and soy).

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