Almost two thirds of Americans oppose NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s radical approach to tackling obesity by cracking down on sales of super-sized soft drinks, according to a new survey.
In a national telephone survey of 1,000 US adults conducted on May 31 and June 1 by Rasmussen Reports, respondents were asked: ‘Do you favor or oppose a law that would ban the sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 ounces?’
In response, 65% of those polled said no, 24% said yes, and 11% were undecided.
Asked ‘Does the government have the constitutional authority to prevent people from buying sugary drinks?’ 9% said yes, 85% said no and 6% were not sure.
Asked ‘Should the government ban the sale of all sugary drinks?’ 11% said yes, 85% said no and 4% were not sure.
Women, Democrats and younger adults more in favor of intervention
A breakdown of the figures revealed that women were more likely than men to favor government intervention on this issue, with 28% of women favoring Bloomberg’s ban vs 21% of men.
Younger people in the 18-39 yrs age bracket were also more likely than those aged 40-64 and 65+ to favor government intervention, with almost a fifth (18%) agreeing that the government should ban the sale of all sugary drinks, compared with just 5% of 40-64 year olds and 8% of the over 65s.
But the strongest differences were observed along party lines, with 41% of Democrats in favor of Bloomberg’s ban compared with just 11% of Republicans.
The findings - which will be seized upon by soft drinks manufacturers objecting to Bloomberg’s move - will contribute to a debate over how best to handle rising obesity rates that has become increasingly polarized.
While the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has praised Bloomberg’s "pioneering" proposal, soft drinks makers and foodservice giants such as McDonald’s have blasted it as “misguided”.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stays on the fence
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) noted that the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encouraged consumers to reduce their consumption of foods and beverages with added sugars. However, it stopped short of welcoming Bloomberg’s proposal.
President Sylvia Escott-Stump said the Academy had convened a working group to “examine the effectiveness of measures like proposed bans and taxes that are designed to influence consumers' purchases and their potential impact on people's health”.
But currently, the jury was out on whether such interventions resulted in positive behavioral change, claimed Escott-Stump:
"To date, most bans and taxations like the New York proposal are based on theoretical models. There is conflicting research on whether these programs actually result in behavior change that leads to positive health outcomes."
What role do sugary drinks play in rising obesity levels?
However, some academics - notably Dr Barry Popkin, distinguished professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - say the time for talking is over.
Speaking at the academy’s annual conference last September, Popkin said: “You can always say yes, we need more randomized controlled trials, but there comes a time when you have to take a stand… If we’d waited for all the evidence on tobacco to act we would still have been promoting it in 2002.”
Calories from sugary drinks do not fill us up in the same way as solid foods, and people that drink large volumes of soft drinks are at particular risk of taking in too many calories, added: “If we take in 200 calories in liquid, we won’t eat 200 fewer calories from foods [to compensate].”
Writing in her foodpolitics blog on June 1, Marion Nestle, professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, added that educating consumers to help them make healthier choices was certainly to be encouraged, but that the time had come for action.
"Barrage us with advertising, put food within arm’s reach, make food available 24/7, make it cheap, and serve it in enormous portions. Faced with this kind of food environment, education doesn’t stand a chance."
What is Bloomberg proposing?
Bloomberg’s proposal - which if approved, could come into force next spring - would ban sales of sugary beverages in containers larger than 16oz from any foodservice outlet that receives letter grades for food service, including movie theaters, fast food chains, mobile food carts and delis. It would not apply to grocery stores.
It defines sugary drinks as beverages that are "sweetened with sugar or another caloric sweetener that contain more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contains less than 51% milk or milk substitute by volume as an ingredient”.
This would exclude most dairy-based drinks, diet sodas, alcoholic drinks and 100% juices, said Bloomberg's office: "Scientific studies have shown what common sense already tells us: when larger portions are in front of people, they simply consume more, often without recognizing it."
Click here for reaction to Bloomberg’s proposal.
Are sugary drinks making us fat? Click here.
Click here to read Bloomberg's official release on the proposal.