Will New York’s ban on large soft drinks reduce obesity?

The mayor of New York City is proposing a ban on soft drink servings of greater than 16 ounces at at restaurants, delis, sports arenas and movie theaters.  Will this help?

It’s fascinating to see the American libertarian streak arising in such unlikely places as even the New York Times.  Americans still don’t like being told what to do; we are a country that loves receiving government checks but hates being artificially restrained in what amount of a legal product we can purchase.

It is true that soft drink cups have gotten larger and larger over time.  It is true that nobody really needs a 600 calorie Slurpee.  But it’s really unclear that banning them will have any appreciable effect on obesity, because:

(1) the major effect here will be reducing the size of drive-thru beverages, since anybody eating inside can just get a 16 oz cup and refill it as often as they want to anyway

(2) drive-through beverages and those consumed at sports arenas are not a major caloric component for enough people to have an appreciable impact on obesity

(3) as far as movie theaters, I’m sorry, I don’t see people paying five bucks for their sugar water as a likely outcome of a trip to the movies anymore, since movie tickets for two is pushing $25 already.

(4) consumption of sodas is already down 25% in the last 10 years… and contrary t o what you’re reading in the papers, people aren’t switching to spring water or frothy coffee, they’re switching to canned energy drinks instead of soda or coffee; as sales of both of those is flat to declining.  Canned drinks don’t appear to be affected by the size limit.

(4) most importantly,taking on Big Sugarwater specifically and alone,

Two Slurpees in a car cupholder.

will make New York a laughing stock in the minds of so many people that any benefit gained will be outweighed by the kickback in public opinion.


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