Will Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea banning of large sugary drinks in New York City have any impact on obesity rates? Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham do not think so. They say that the focus is too narrow – on just one item – and does not address the big picture in the battle against the obesity epidemic.

Kathryn Kaise, Ph.D., and team in 2009 set out to determine what effect consuming sugar-sweetened drinks might have on body weight. They gathered and examined data from five randomized trials and found that as far as weight reduction was concerned, reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption did not make much of a difference to body weight.

Dr. Kaiser said:

“We found no significant effect on overall weight reduction as a result of reducing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. Since this was published, two other randomized trials have been published, and neither showed large effects on weight change.

My hope for the public debate and our leaders’ focus is that we direct energy and resources toward the design and conduct of randomized trials that will definitively answer the questions about actions that can significantly reduce weight. From this type of effort, policies may be better informed.”

Colleague Suzanne Judd, from the Alabama University School of Public Health (SOPH) believes that banning the sale of super-sized sodas will have virtually no impact on obesity rates.

Dr. Judd said:

“I think to say people drinking large sodas at events is the cause of obesity is short sighted and it is making a villain out of something that may not be the true villain. I think that while reducing consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is important, I don’t think making it unavailable in certain settings is a way to accomplish that.”

Judd believes that the responsibility for a person’s health lies in himself/herself, and what people do to improve their health.

The researchers believe that individuals make their own choices. They cannot be forced into making decisions on what they can or cannot do.

Judd says that people need to be educated about the consequences of certain choices – in other words, a much more comprehensive public health effort is required.

Judd and Kaiser have no financial interest in any beverage or food company – they have never received money from such companies, they say.

Soft drink shelf
Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested banning sodas larger than 16 ounces

A NY1-Marist poll last Sunday involving 500 people found that the 53% of New Yorkers believe banning large sugary sodas is a bad idea, while 42% praised the idea.

Over half the people polled said they never order a soda that would be banned if the new legislation were imposed.

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg suggested limiting the size of sugary drinks to 16 ounces at New York delis, food trucks, sporting arenas, movie theatres and restaurants. Only sugary drinks would be affected, not diet ones. Drinks consisting of at least 70% juice would be exempt from the ban, as would those containing at least half milk. As many convenience and grocery stores come under the jurisdiction of the State of New York, they would not be affected.

In an interview with CBS news, Bloomberg said:

“Every study shows that you will eat a very big proportion of whatever’s put in front of you, And if you have to make a conscious effort to go to another cup, you’re less likely to do it.”

Banning sugary drinks from schools in New York City in 2003 has resulted in a 5% reduction in obesity rates in the city’s schools, city health authorities report.

Written by Christian Nordqvist