Michael Bloomberg’s Supersized Soda Ban: Can It Battle Obesity in The First Place?


The Times has a story today about Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s battle with supersized sodas and how his fight is playing out in New York’s poorest borough, the Bronx.

Part of Bloomberg’s move, the article explains, stems from the persistence of obesity in the Bronx. Though anti-obesity measures have been in place there for years — ranging from cheap farmers markets to exercise classes to health fairs — they’re not working. On the contrary, “nearly one in three Bronx adults is obese,” and that number is growing, prompting the administration to take more drastic measures.

But will they work?

There are a couple of things to consider. For starters, a lot of the people interviewed by the Times don’t seem like they’re going to change their soda-drinking ways.

One woman, whose sentiments reportedly echoed those of many interviewees, told the paper: “If I eat cheeseburgers and fries, I’m going to get dehydrated and that little cup is not enough.” So, she said, she would buy two small cups instead of a big one.

Another issue we reported on last week is whether bans bans, in general, positively affect public health policy.

Many have said that Bloomberg would have been better to tax sodas. A 20 percent tax increase, some say, would lead to a 20 percent drop in soda consumption and generate revenue for anti-obesity efforts. Tax advocates point to cigarettes as proof of this phenomenon.

So, we had also asked the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene why Bloomberg went for a ban instead of a tax? We also asked: Have Bloomberg’s other food policies — like making nutrition facts mandatory on menu boards and transfat bans — been measured for success?

At the time, a Department spokeswoman told us that she wasn’t sure whether Health and Hygiene was still answering questions about these issues, but would check into it. So far, all we’ve heard are crickets.

One thing that City officials might consider checking into is the link between poverty and dietary health. The Bronx is the poorest borough. A fair amount of studies suggest that there’s a positive correlation between food insecurity and obesity — especially among women. The Food Research and Action Center argues that: “Food insecure and low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty, including: Limited resources, lack of access to healthy, affordable foods, fewer opportunities for physical activity, cycles of food deprivation and overeating, high levels of stress, greater exposure to marketing of obesity-promoting
products, [and] limited access to health care.”

To be fair, Bloomberg has definitely addressed some food access and exercise concerns, but there are other unresolved ones. And while we’re not saying that this is definitely what’s up in the Bronx, it’s a correlation worth pointing out, and something — along with soda taxes — that he might want to consider while making policies.

[H/T City & State]