Pump the Brakes! This is About Health, Not Attacking or Supporting Soda Sizes


There’s plenty of shit to dislike as well as like about the two parties involved in the lawsuit over the soda-size restriction set to go into effect in March.

In the eyes of many New Yorkers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come off as an obsessive control-freak during his three terms as mayor. So, when news that the New York City Board of Health, which consists of officials whom Bloomberg personally appoints, passed the bill in September to limit large-sized soda-pop, critics saw it as yet another move by the mayor to dictate to New Yorkers what’s best for them without actually considering their opinion.

In Bloomberg’s defense, even if he’s overreaching in his authority again, at least there’s a convincing link between sugary sodas, obesity and the onset of various diseases.

On the flip side, it’s hard for many to stomach the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation’s argument about the discriminatory nature of the ban in the American Beverage Association’s court battle against the city–when considering the close ties that both organizations have to the soda industry. The NAACP has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from big soda companies in recent years, and the the former head of the Hispanic Federation, Lillian Rodriguez, left the coalition early last year to take a post at Coca-Cola, according to an AP report.

Yet despite the looming conflict of interest, the two groups may have a point in arguing that smaller minority-owned establishments will be disadvantaged by a law that prohibits the sale of sodas larger then 16-ounces at their stores but allows them at chain-stores like 7-Eleven.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember in the whole debate is that whether you agree or disagree with the soda ban, it’s not going to have that great of an impact on the health of New Yorkers either way.

“A policy like this is just too narrow,” Jacquie Berger, executive director of food advocacy organization Just Food, tells the Voice. “The way to make New Yorkers healthier is to increase access to healthy food and to help more New Yorkers include more fresh vegetables and fruits in their diet.”

Berger commends the Bloomberg administration for its efforts to establish initiatives that actually make a difference health-wise. She cited effective initiatives such as the city’s expansion of farmer’s markets and its Healthy Bucks program, which allows New Yorkers eligible for food stamps to receive a $2-credit for every $5 they spend at a farmer’s market.

“We’re more in favor of them creating incentives and policies that increase the flow of healthy foods to all New York City neighborhoods–but particularly to the under-served neighborhoods and those communities,” Berger says. “People need to have access, it needs to be local, it needs to be affordable, and people need to know what to do with it.”

Perhaps some legislation to limit the incessant flow of soda-porn that pours over airways and the Internet–courtesy of big bottle companies, might be a more effective way for government to intervene in the city and the nation’s soda-contributed obesity epidemic.

Earlier this month, food journalist and columnist for the New York Times, Mark Bittman wrote a column rallying against the soda industry’s shameless use of entertainers to sling products. Bittman noted that one of his colleagues observed 26 integrated product placement shots of Coke during the final episode of American Idol last season and a whopping 324 placements of Snapple during an episode of America’s Got Talent last year.

After government gets done regulating the absurd amounts of advertising these corporations deploy, maybe it can address the incestuous relationship that the soda-industry has with the very nutrition professionals tasked with promoting healthy dietary habits.

A recent study from food industry watchdog, Eat, Drink, Politics, documents the apparent intimate relationship that big beverage and food companies have with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an organization that consists of more than 74,000 nutrition professionals. The EDP study contends that AND holds soda-industry sponsored continuing-education symposiums where members are taught that things such as sugar and aspartame aren’t harmful.

To avoid digressing any further let’s get back to the original point. The soda bill debate should not blind New Yorkers from the bigger health issues at hand.

“Help with food distribution, help with affordability and help with food education, those are the ways that we can transform the health outcomes of New Yorkers,” Berger says. “We’re not so into silver bullet policy-making.”