Christina Scirica, MD, MPH, a MassGeneral Hospital for Children pulmonologist and weight expert, answers questions on the potential effectiveness of the New York City ban on the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, delis, sports facilities, and street vendors that was passed September 7, 2012.
Could banning large soft drinks be effective in the fight against obesity?
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Will reducing the sale of super-sized sugar-sweetened drinks, like soda, have any effect on the growing obesity problem?
Reducing sweetened beverage intake alone is unlikely to reverse the obesity epidemic, but it is nonetheless an important piece of a much larger puzzle that will involve other changes in our diet and activity levels.
Why start with regulating soft drinks and other sugary drinks instead of focusing on portion control, which many say is larger problem?
Restaurant portion sizes have increased for many, if not most, foods and correcting the perception that these massive servings are appropriate is just as important as limiting super-size sodas. But there are two reasons to start with sodas. The first is that research clearly supports an association between sweetened beverage consumption and obesity. The other is that sweetened beverage containers are more easily measured and regulated than many other foods and so represent an ideal place to begin the effort to reduce portion sizes.
Sweetened beverages are a particular problem for a number of reasons:
The ban only limits the sale of sugary beverages exceeding 16 ounces at restaurants, delis, sports facilities, and street vendors. Won’t people just buy more of the smaller sizes?
When people are given larger portion sizes, they consume larger portion sizes regardless of how hungry they are to begin with. Conversely, if people are given smaller portions, they tend to eat less. Some determined people will buy themselves more containers of soda, but many others will simply drink less.
Is a ban on sugary drinks really necessary? Isn’t educating people to make healthy choices a better option?
While useful, education and improved access to healthy foods are simply not enough to turn around the obesity epidemic that threatens to cripple this nation. The current environment strongly promotes choices that contribute to obesity, and changes need to be made to the environment that make healthier choices the default rather than the exception.
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