NEW YORK – New York on Thursday became the first city in the nation to ban super-sized sugary drinks in restaurants, setting the stage for a legal challenge by the beverage industry, which calls the rule a violation of consumers’ rights to drink what they want even if it is harming their health.
The Board of Health, which is appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, easily approved the rule, which will limit to 16 ounces the size of sodas and other sugary drinks sold in food-service establishments such as restaurants and delis.
The rule does not affect grocery stores, which are controlled by the state.
Assuming it is not blocked by legal challenges, it would take effect in six months and impose a $200 fine on businesses found in violation.
Depending on the point of view, the rule is a violation of basic human rights; a measure to protect children from lives of diabetes, heart disease and other ills; an economic misstep; or a necessary move toward curbing New York’s obesity problem. But the law, which Bloomberg proposed last May, also led to a broader debate of how best to control the city’s – and the nation’s – collective weight problem.
In public comments that preceded the board’s vote, critics accused the city of failing to spend money to ensure children in poor, urban areas most affected by diabetes and other weight-related issues have after-school recreation programs or parks in which to exercise. They also said the rule would add to New York’s image as a “nanny” state where the mayor has imposed several health-related changes that have changed the face and ways of America’s largest city.
Those changes also have influenced other cities nationwide.
In 2008, New York became the first major urban area to require large restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus. Similar laws have since been adopted elsewhere, and on Wednesday, McDonald’s began posting calorie counts on its menus nationwide.
Last year, the city banned smoking in most public areas. In 2006, it passed the nation’s first law requiring restaurants to drastically cut the use of artificial trans fats in prepared food. Bloomberg also has tried to encourage exercise by replacing traffic-choked areas such as Times Square with pedestrian plazas, and he has replaced precious parking spots with bicycle lanes.