From the NYC Soda Ban Hearing: The Best Arguments For and Against

Supersized debate: opinions flowed over at the public hearing on New York City's proposed ban on large-sized sodas, on which the Board of Health is set to vote on Sept. 13

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jonathan Kantor / Getty Images

Hundreds of people gathered on Tuesday at the New York City Board of Health’s public hearing to weigh in on Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s controversial proposal to ban large-size sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages from the city’s restaurants, delis, sports arena vendors, movie theaters and food carts.

The hearing drew health and nutrition experts, politicians and beverage industry representatives, who faced off over the proposed ban, on which the Board of Health is scheduled to vote in September. Although the issue is a local one, its outcome is likely to effect national change: Bloomberg’s previous policies — his public smoking ban, trans fat ban and mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus, for example — have sparked similar federal laws or have been adopted by other cities and localities.

(MORE: The New York City Soda Ban, and a Brief History of Bloomberg’s Nudges)

The soda ban has similarly triggered a heated debate nationwide, and on Tuesday, supporters and critics each had five minutes in front of the board to express their opinions on the matter. Below is a roundup of the most notable arguments.

Nutrition and medical experts favored the ban, which would prohibit the sale of any sugar-sweetened beverage over 16 oz., arguing that it would undeniably protect public health. Large portion sizes of sugary drinks make it easy for people to overconsume calories, especially from added sugar, since overdrinking is easier than overeating, experts noted:

“Soda in large amounts is metabolically toxic. … It’s obvious that this is the right thing to do.”
—Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health

“Larger portions lead to overconsumption. … This is firmly established in science. There is no reason for larger portions except for more consumption.”

“You don’t feel as full when you consume calories in liquids. … These beverages are the single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet.”
Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for food policy and obesity at Yale University

(MORE: How Soda Companies’ Social Responsibility Campaigns Are Harming Your Health)

Supporters of the ban also compared soda companies’ marketing and lobbying tactics to those used by the tobacco industry. Critics on the other side of the debate mocked the comparison and characterized the proposed ban as another example of the government overreaching into people’s everyday lives:

“When they came for the cigarettes, I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t smoke. When they came for the M.S.G., I didn’t say anything because I don’t eat it very often. … What is the government going to tell me next? What time to go to bed? How big my steaks should be?”
Dan Halloran, city councilman from Queens

“This proposal restricts choice. New Yorkers can make our own choices about what to buy, and in what quantities — whether it’s soda, lemonade, tea or a juice or sports drink.”
Liz Berman, president of Continental Food and Beverage, Inc.

(MORE: Do the Chemicals That Turn Soda Brown Also Cause Cancer?)

Another industry rep said the ban wasn’t backed by science:

“Added sugars, including sugar-sweetened beverages, are no more likely to cause weight gain than other sources of calories. … Regulation is not the best choice, particularly when there is little empirical scientific data to show there is a public benefit for this type of approach.”

“It’s not reasonable to blame or cite one product.”
—Joy Dubost, director of health for the National Restaurant Association, a Washington-based industry group

The “nanny state” argument is irrelevant, said others. The main focus should be on reining in rates of obesity and the skyrocketing health-care costs of obesity-related illnesses like diabetes and premature death. How to do that? Counter industry marketing with regulation:

“Portraying a vitally important health initiative as an assault on consumers’ rights is simply distracting. … For more than 100 years, the soda industry has had free reign and for many years it was not a problem because people mostly drank in moderation. … Now container sizes have jumped and the marketing of these drinks — especially to adolescents — has exploded to more than $2 billion a year.”
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest

MORE: NYC’s Trans Fat Ban Worked: Fast-Food Diners Are Eating Healthier

John America
John America

Why is it the government's job to make people healthier? If these people get diabetes and have heart attacks later in life I say that it is natural selection at work. It is pathetic that the American people cannot even take care of themselves anymore and our legislators are tasked with keeping Americans from harming themselves. Let them kill themselves slowly and let their insurance companies charge higher premiums if their BMI and blood pressure are out of acceptable ranges. That should be their incentive to live healthier lives, not to mention the simple desire to live longer and feel better.

Heidi McClure
Heidi McClure

I don't even drink sugared soda, but I'm glad I don't live in New York. I'm curious, though; if I stop by to visit, will this be affecting diet soda, too?


People make wrong choices in what food to buy, the industry, however,  makes it all to easy to make that wrong choice and especially in the wrong size. The fast food industry has no scruples. It's been years after the movie "Super size me", still nothing has changed. No real corporate responsibility here. If there is any publication on this topic, it's just a marketing gimmick. Just like the majority of corporations it's only about profit and greed to have more of it.

to Liz Berman:

Your statement is nonsense. There is hardly any choice for US consumers to buy a small soda. "Small" in the US is a large compared to European and Asian definition of small size and a large in the US is just ridiculous. Perhaps you should try this quiz: 

By limiting the sale of large sodas this proposal does not restrict choice as a consumer still has the possibility to buy two sodas in replacement of a large.

to Joy Dubos:

As you've made your statement as a "director of health" one can clearly conclude you are just full of sh*t. With your job title one would think you'd actually care about health. Please have your job title renamed because your statement does no good to health. One doesn't need to be scientist to see that the extremely large sizes of sodas in the US are ridiculous and an actual threat to health. The problem is not necessarily the product group "soda" itself, it's the sizes it's consistently being offered within the fast food restaurant industry.


This is pretty ridiculous. Instead why don't they try implementing more nutrition education in schools? And maybe some healthy eating public service announcements. The problem is not the portion or even the product, the problem is that people are making poor choices. PEOPLE need to be held responsible. They are the ones that make the final decision. 


A difference of 63 calories is what is being saved yet some schools have no physical education. This is down to freedom of choice and a line has to be drawn NOW. If u don't care about this issue, once this passes there is bound to be grounds for more restrictions-- beer, desserts, popcorn. This is ridiculous. I didn't realize we had hitler as our mayor


Life Lessons from 114 Year Old Doctor

Drink only Water.

By the time Leila retired in 2001, at the age of 103, she had cared for thousands of children through a career that spanned seven decades. She began practicing medicine before there was baby food and before many immunizations were developed. Yet as medicine progressed over the next 70 years, Denmark remained true to an early belief: good parenting, good nutrition, and common sense afford a child a good chance at a healthy life.

Dr. Denmark’s most famous simple prescription for longevity is “love what you do and eat right.”

Drink only water

We need to think about everything we eat and drink

Children and adults should eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juices

“Let’s do” is easier than do

Anything you have to do is work and anything you love to do is play

During the Great Depression, 11,000 of America’s 25,000 banks closed (Save what you can, appreciate what you have.)

Never raise your hand or your voice to a child

Parenting has gone out of style

The greatest change she’s seen in her lifetime has been the neglect of little children


Full list of her 18 Life Lessons:

Ian Welch