Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City Soda Ban Overturned!

New York City’s now infamous soda ban has raised a lot of important questions and become one of the most polarizing topics of 2012. Mayor Bloomberg’s ruling was set to take effect on March 12th, until Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling overturned the ruling. The beverage industry, small businesses and several interest groups rallied together to sue and keep the city from enforcing the drink regulation while the case was deliberated on. At last, Judge Tingling declared that “The loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the stated purpose of this rule.”

Mayor Bloomberg and city officials felt that the soda ban was a huge move for public health, aiming to lower obesity rates and thus decrease obesity-related illness costs by close to $2.8 billion annually in New York City. The soda ban was only the latest of Bloomberg’s motions to create a healthier New York. In previous years he compelled restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus, banned artificial trans fats from restaurant food, and even limited the amount of salt food manufacturers would use.

Supporters of the Mayor’s health initiatives make the case that sugary drinks are clearly tied to weight gain, and now nearly 24 percent of the city’s adults are obese, up from 18 percent in 2002. City lawyer Mark W. Muschenheim said the soda ban will “have significant public health effects, and the sooner that happens, the better.”

However critics of the soda ban have been far more outspoken, calling it arbitrary in that it applies to only some sugary beverages and allows other beverages to be sold only in certain stores. Critics also stated that the City Board of Health went beyond its jurisdiction in approving this size limit rule. The elected City Council did not preside over the initial ruling, instead a panel of doctors and health professional appointment by Bloomberg approved the soda ban.

While meant to curb obesity, the soda ban would hurt many businesses that relied on beverage sales and would have to retool their menus and change inventory with no compensation, while other established businesses like grocery stores would be allowed to carry on selling large sugary beverages.

Although Bloomberg’s health initiatives may have hit their first real hitch, the Mayor seems unfazed by the judge’s ruling. Shortly afterward he tweeted “We plan to appeal the sugary drinks decision as soon as possible, and we are confident the measure will ultimately be upheld.”

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Restaurant and Soda Industry File Lawsuit Against Soda Ban

After Mayor Bloomberg passed New York’s now infamous soda ban a few weeks ago, many groups are rallying together to overturn this legislation and allow consumers to purchase sugary beverages in whatever size they wish. These interest groups have decided to suet block the city’s restriction on large sugary beverages, calling the ban unfair and undemocratic. The groups involved in this lawsuit include the American Beverage Association, the National Restaurant Association, a soft drink workers union and many smaller groups including movie theater owners and grocers.

“For the first time, they’re telling New Yorkers how much of certain safe and lawful beverages they can drink,” said Caroline Starke, a representative for the groups that are lacing the lawsuit. The groups have particularly taken offense that the city made this decision through an unelected board.

However advocated for the soda ban feel that this lawsuit is a hindrance to a groundbreaking policy in New York. Mayor Bloomberg has referred to the legislation as a reasonable way to fight an obesity problem that takes a toll on the health of many New Yorkers and the budgets at many city hospitals.

“This predictable, yet baseless, lawsuit fortunately will help put an even greater spotlight on the obesity epidemic,” said city spokesman Marc LaVorgna. LaVorgna also noted that previous lawsuits for smoking in bars and offices and forcing fast-food restaurants to list calories on their menus failed to overturn decisions made by the city.

The soda ban effectively stops restaurants, cafeterias and concession stands from selling soda or other high calorie drinks in servings larger than 16 ounces. Ideally this measure will prevent people from consuming extra calories; if a person changes from consuming a 20 ounce Coca-Cola to a 16 ounce one, that person will trim 14,600 calories in a year. The rule will still allow customers to purchase an additional 16 ounce soda if they choose.

Although Bloomberg’s board may feel they are making these changes in the best interest of the city, many New Yorkers feel the city is becoming a nanny-state, with a New York Times poll in August showing that six in ten New Yorkers oppose the new rule. Manufacturers will have to get new bottles, and eateries may lose sales to businesses that aren’t restricted by the rule. Convenience stores are not affected by Boomberg’s soda ban, meaning a customer could skip a 20 ounce soda at a deli to purchase a Big Gulp at a 7-Eleven.

The lawsuit claims that the city is unfairly targeting small businesses that cannot afford to make the changes that will be required, and the Bloomberg-appointed health board should not be allowed to dictate the size of soft drinks. The city still maintains that the board, made up of physicians and other health experts is exactly the board to decide on this matter.

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Soda vending Machines will Display Calories Information

Following New York City’s soda ban, beverage companies are scrambling to protect themselves before similar measure are taken across the country. Now Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are introducing new vending machines that will display the calorie content of their drinks, to be released in Chicago and San Antonio in 2013 and rolling out on a national level soon after.

The American Beverage Association will oversee these new machines, and aims to raise awareness for health concerns about sugary beverages by displaying messages such as “Try a Low-Calorie Beverage.” The machines will also increase the availability of low-calories drinks, and will feature calories information for each choice of beverage. The average 12-ounce can of regular soda has 140 calories and 40 gram of high-fructose corn syrup. Diet sodas are typically sweetened with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and contain zero calories.

After New York City approved a ban to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks of 16 ounces in the city’s restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums, many soda producers are wondering whether the label on the back of a soda bottle is enough warning to consumers. However the beverage industry still does not support this measure, saying that the soda ban eliminates the customer’s personal choice.

Overall soft drink consumption in the U.S. has been steadily declining since 1998, and soft drink producers have to deal with changing consumer habits. This decline is most likely due to increased beverage options, like flavored waters, sports drinks and even new powder-based products. Coca-Cola is set to release Dasani Drops soon as a portable flavor-enhancer to combine with water and create a personalized beverage. In addition to new products, soda manufacturers will be developing more diet options to steer consumers away from their high-calorie products.

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Research Shows Sugary Drinks Directly Contribute to Obesity

The relationship between sugary beverages and obesity has been hotly contested over the past few months as new policies have been put into effect to decrease the consumption of these beverages. Now a decades-long study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, involving over 33,000 Americans has finally been released, asserting that soda and other sugary beverages actually have a profound effect on obesity.

The results of this study show that drinking sugary beverages does in fact interact with the genes that affect weight, and increase the likelihood of obesity from heredity alone. For people with genes with a high risk factor for obesity (most people have at least a few of these genes), sugary beverages can be especially harmful. The study also strongly suggested that sugary drinks cause people to gain weight independently of other unhealthy behaviors like overeating and lack of exercise.

Previously experiments have been inconclusive in determining the effects of sugary beverages. In one of the new studies research randomly assigned over 200 obese or overweight high schoolers in Boston to receive shipments every two weeks of either sugary drinks or their sugar-free alternatives. The kids were aware of the beverages they were drinking, and made no efforts to curb their eating or exercise schedules. The results showed that after one year the sugar-free group weighed four pounds less on average than the group which continued drinking sugary beverages.

This directly demonstrated that sugar-free drinks do lead to less weight gain, and people can satisfy their cravings for sugary beverages with these substitutes. A second study in the Netherlands involved 641 normal-weight children between the ages of 4 and 12, who regularly drank sugary beverages. The children were randomly assigned sugary or sugar-free beverages at school, and were not told what kind of beverage they were drinking. After eighteen months the sugary-drink group weighed two pounds more on average than the other group.

The American Beverage Association was not so easily convinced by the findings of these studies. “Obesity is not uniquely caused by any single food or beverage,” it commented in a statement. “Studies and opinion pieces that focus solely on sugar-sweetened beverages, or any other single source of calories, do nothing meaningful to help address this serious issue.”

Since the 1970’s consumption of sugary beverages in the U.S. have more than doubled, same as the U.S. obesity rates. Sugary drinks are currently the biggest source of calories in the American diet, and they may be accountable for the obesity epidemic that affects a third of U.S. children and over two-thirds of adults.

“I know of no other single food product whose elimination can produce this degree of weight change,” said the study’s leader, Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the wake of Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban in New York City, evidence like this will undoubtedly affect how other cities choose to address this obesity problem.

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McDonald’s Posts Calorie Content

Many New Yorker’s are already accustomed to the mandatory calorie information they see posted at McDonald’s restaurants throughout the city, now the chain is posting this information at all of its locations nationwide. Starting Monday the chain will post calorie information on restaurant and drive-thru menus, working to voluntarily post this information before a regulation is passed that would mandate restaurants to post this information nationwide.

McDonald’s already posts calories information in New York, Philadelphia, Australia, South Korea and the United Kingdom. They hope to soon post this information in South America as well. “We want to voluntarily do this,” said Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA. “We believe it will help educate customers. When it’s all said and done, the menu mix doesn’t change. But I do think people feel better knowing this information.”

This move comes as a preemptive response to the Supreme Court’s decision to approve President Obama’s healthcare changes. In these changes one regulation requires that restaurant chains with over 20 locations must post the calorie content of their food. While restaurants still have time to sort out their menus before the law comes into play, few other chains have responded so readily. Wendy’s has yet to make a response, Burger King and Yum Brands (the owner of KFC and Taco Bell) said that they are waiting for more information before they proceed.

The ultimate goal of posting calorie information at these restaurants is to raise awareness about what we eat. “Obesity isn’t the kind of thing where one day you wake up and you’re fat. We gradually and slowly gain weight over time,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Wootan believes that this move could have a large effect over time, and could help sway some people to make better choices with what they eat.

Regulators are also hoping that restaurant chains will make an extra effort to provide healthier food after seeing the calorie content publicly posted. “It can be embarrassing, or shocking, so they end up changing the way the product is made,” Wootan said.

McDonald’s is already testing some healthier options, like the Egg White Delight, an Egg McMuffin with egg white, Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese on a whole grain muffin, clocking in at 260 calories. New McWraps are being tested as well, ranging from 350 to 580 calories. This is a stark contrast to a Big Mac meal, which would amount to about 1,140 calories. McDonald’s faces strong competition from chains like Subway that market themselves as healthy alternatives to fast food.

McDonald’s efforts to get ahead of the game by posting calorie content voluntarily may simply be a savvy public relations move however. Corporate Accountability International is a group that has previously urged McDonald’s to stop marketing food to children. They say that McDonald’s has attempted to stop similar regulations in the past, and their latest move was certainly not voluntary. While the chain instituted a rule earlier this year that automatically includes apple slices in Happy Meals, Sara Deon from Corporate Accountability International said that it was nothing but a “PR scheme designed to drive traffic to stores to sell burgers and fries.”

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London Assembly Seeks to Ban McDonald’s and Coca Cola at the Onset of the Olympics

McDonald’s is poised to open its new location in London, set to be the largest location in the world with a staff of 500 and seating for 1,500 people. This move is in conjunction with its longtime sponsorship of the Olympics, and the location will be dismantled after the conclusion of the Olympic Games. However, opponents of McDonald’s and fellow Olympic sponsor Coca Cola are calling for a ban of these brands at 2012’s Olympic Games.

Less than a month before the Olympics begin, the London Assembly has voted to call for a ban on both sponsors. They feel that because the Olympics represent the world’s best athletes, two companies that contribute to obesity and provide high-calorie food should not be the event’s primary sponsors. The London Assembly is an elected group of officials that monitors the activities of the Mayor of London and may amend the mayor’s annual budget. The Assembly urges the International Olympic Committee to adopt strict criteria in choosing sponsors of the Games, excluding companies that contribute to poor health like McDonald’s and Coca Cola.

Coca Cola however is the Olympic Games’ longest-running sponsor, supporting the event since 1928. McDonald’s has also sponsored the Olympic Games since 1976, and the two companies have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the athletic event. These sponsors are crucial to the continued success of the Olympic Games, which relies on these commercial partnerships to continue. In fact, sponsors account for over 40% of Olympic revenues, and McDonald’s and Coca Cola have been two of the largest contributors for many years.

Though UK doctors claims that the Olympic sponsorships of these two companies sends the wrong message in a country facing high obesity rates, their sponsorship is necessary for the continuation of the Olympic Games. According to McDonald’s UK’s chief executive however, some of these accusations are unfounded given the company’s recent attempts to improve the nutritional content of their menu. “We do offer a breadth of menu. You can see on the menu here we have grilled chicken wraps, we have salads, fruit smoothies as well as the more indulgent recipes that people know and love.”

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Soda Companies Fight Back Against Bloomberg’s Ban

Several weeks ago we discussed Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed New York City soda ban that would restrict New Yorkers from purchasing large quantities of soda in an effort to create a healthier city. Now the large soda companies are fighting back, launching a campaign to combat Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban.

The ban’s opponents have created a coalition called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, and they are meeting with members of the City Council and several other city officials. Lobbyists from these companies, including Coca-Cola have hired people to canvass and ask for signatures on the street, as well as spread the message through social media.

In addition a new radio advertisement paid for the by the American Beverage Association features authentic New Yorkers complaining about Bloomberg’s proposed nanny state. The narrator of the advertisement says, “This is New York City; no one tells us what neighborhood to live in or what team to root for. So are we going to let our mayor tell us what size beverage to buy?”

Ultimately the decision of whether or not to pass Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban will be up to the New York City Board of Health, who have been mostly selected by the mayor himself. On July 24th a public hearing will be held, and afterwards the Board of Health will decide whether to approve the soda ban or not.

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