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Why New York’s Soda Ban Won’t Help Obesity

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New Yorkers are taking a stand against the city's proposed ban on large sugary beverages. More than 20,000 city residents in two weeks have joined the New Yorkers for Beverage Choices coalition, a group that is fighting the proposed drink restrictions. The coalition has hired 50 workers to canvass the city's five boroughs, collecting signatures on petitions and recruiting residents to join the group's cause.

New Yorkers for Beverage Choices has become just one force behind the beverage industry's attack on New York's drink ban. Lobbyists from Coca-Cola (KO) and other big soda companies have been meeting with New York City council members and mayoral candidates since Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration announced the ban at the end of May, reports the New York Times.

Eliot Hoff, spokesperson for New Yorkers for Beverage choices, says New Yorkers, not city officials, should be the ultimate decider when it comes to healthy living.

Sodas and sugary drinks have always been the nemesis of nutritionists but they've recently become the center of attention in the health industry, especially as obesity rates skyrocket in the U.S. Sugary beverages are high in calories and devoid of nutritional value and are regarded as a leading cause of the nation's obesity epidemic. Nearly two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. In New York City, 58 percent of adults are overweight or obese and more than 20 percent of the city's public school children are obese.

The health risks associated with obesity are life-threatening: cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The Centers for Disease and Prevention Control defines obesity as an adult who has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. According to the city, more than 30 percent of adult New Yorkers drink one or more sweetened beverages per day. In 2009, the most recent data available, 44 percent of New York City school children ages six to 12 consumed more than one sweetened drink per day. A 20-ounce sugary drink can contain the equivalent of 16 packets of sugar and sugar drinks comprise nearly 43 percent of an average American's sugar intake.

The Bloomberg administration wants to ban the sale of sugary beverages that are larger than 16 ounces. Sodas, lemonades, pre-sweetened ice teas and energy drinks are included in the ban; diet sodas, fruit juices, alcoholic beverages and milk-based drinks— such as milk shakes and some Starbucks coffee beverages — would be exempt. New Yorkers would still be able to buy larger sizes of sugary drinks at grocery stores (including 7-Eleven) and convenience stores. Movie theaters, sports arenas, food carts and restaurants would be prohibited from selling them. Violators could face a $200 fine per offense. The ban would go in to effect six months after the city adopts the new rule, which could be this summer. New York City's Department of Health will hold a hearing on the proposed amendment July 24.

Bloomberg's anti-obesity initiative has drawn support from a wide variety of individuals including Fast Food Nation's Eric Schlosser, Chef Jamie Oliver, Folk Singer Judy Collins, Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former President Bill Clinton and former NYC Mayor Ed Koch.

New York City's efforts to lower the rate of obesity through soda purchases are not unique. According to a Reuters investigation, the food and beverage industry has spent $1.5 trillion to defeat soda taxes and marketing restrictions in cities and states across the U.S. The industry has "mounted referendums to overturn the taxes in two states that have passed them." In 2009, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, bottlers and the American Beverage Association spent more than $40 million lobbying Congress when lawmakers were considering a soda tax, Reuters reported.

"We shouldn't rein in these drinks because it will do nothing to help obesity issue," says Hoff in the accompanying video. "There is no scientific evidence…that banning these drinks will help the obesity situation in the city. There are so many other ways to get calories in your diet besides from these drinks. It's arbitrary. It's unfair."

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