Soda: Will a ban on big cups reduce obesity?

New York's mayor wants to ban the sale of supersize sodas from restaurants, movie theaters, and stadiums.

New York City’s “nanny-in-chief” is back, said Julie Gunlock in the New York Daily News. First, Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned cigarettes from bars and restaurants in the Big Apple, and then he moved on to a prohibition on trans fats in restaurant food. Now, Bloomberg has proposed banning the sale of supersize sodas and other sugary beverages from his city’s restaurants, movie theaters, and stadiums, with a 16-ounce limit per cup. Too much soda is a leading cause of obesity, the mayor says, and “it’s time to attack the culprit.” But most scientific research indicates that our obesity crisis stems mostly from overeating—and New Yorkers will be able to circumvent this silly soda ban by simply buying two 16-ounce sodas, instead of one giant one. Why is Bloomberg pushing a prohibition that has so little chance of working? said Gregory Kane in It can only be “because he feels like it, and because he can.”

We don’t usually endorse Bloomberg’s “trademark nannyism,” said the New York Post in an editorial. But this is different. The mayor doesn’t want to ban soda, but to encourage us to consume less of it. Studies have found that people eat and drink more if you put more in front of them; reducing portion size is an effective way to get people to cut down on calories. And let’s face it, said Frank Bruni in The New York Times. “We’re fat, folks. Seriously, dangerously fat”—and the pail-size, sugar-laden 32- and 48-ounce cups of soda now peddled in movie theaters and fast-food chains aren’t helping. Bloomberg is just trying to push back “against the new normal,” and reset our distorted expectations.

“Saint Bloomberg” should spare us from his meddling, said Trevor Butterworth in The holier-than-thou mayor is “in thrall to behaviorism”—the condescending idea that changing our environment will force us to change our “fallible free will.” But singling out soda for causing obesity is absurdly arbitrary. If Bloomberg wants to save New Yorkers from their gluttony, “why not insist on maximum calorie limits on everything else restaurants serve?” By relentlessly acting like he knows better, Bloomberg has become the country’s best argument for libertarianism. “It is hard to think of a better way to turn soda into a symbol for intrusive, meddlesome government than to have a humorless billionaire poking his finger of disapproval into one’s daily life.”

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