Studies strengthen the case against sugary drinks as culprits in obesity epidemic

New research powerfully strengthens the case against soda and other sugary drinks as culprits in the obesity epidemic.

A huge, decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans has yielded the first clear proof that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight, amplifying a person’s risk of obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.

The results strongly suggest that sugary drinks cause people to pack on the pounds, independent of other unhealthy behavior such as overeating and getting too little exercise, scientists say.

That adds weight to the push for taxes, portion limits like the one just adopted in New York City, and other policies to curb consumption of soda, juice drinks and sports beverages sweetened with sugar.

Opponents of Bloomberg’s large soda ban can now begin submitting their apologies to the Mayor’s Office.


Why Mike Bloomberg’s 'Soda Ban' Could Actually Work

Twenty-four states, five cities, and the U.S. Congress have all floated initiatives in the last three years to tax sugary beverages. All have been motivated by the twin goals of raising revenues and fighting obesity. And all have been soundly trounced.

…Bloomberg did something different from what everyone else has done: he bypassed voters, ignored public opinion polls, and left the decision up to a body he knew he could rely on to support his agenda. But he also changed the strategy, abandoning the tax idea (which he himself had once embraced) in favor of one more likely to actually help New Yorkers obesity: restricting the size of beverages.


NYC Soda Restriction Approved in Unanimous Vote


The administration uses science and research to inform policy decisions, not what’s politically popular, or unpopular. The health of New Yorkers remains our priority.
- Deputy Press Secretary Samantha Levine, on poll results showing that 54 percent of New Yorkers oppose Mayor Bloomberg’s big soda ban

Evidence Shows NYC's Trans Fat Ban Works; Bloomberg's "Nanny" State Makes People Healthier

New York City now has hard evidence that its ban on trans fat in restaurant food made a meaningful dent in people’s consumption of the artery clogger and wasn’t just replaced with another bad fat.

The findings being published Tuesday have implications beyond heart health, suggesting another strategy to curb the nation’s obesity epidemic fueled by a high-calorie, super-sized environment.

New York City issued a first-of-its-kind rule restricting artificial trans fat in restaurants, forcing them to alter recipes so that foods contained no more than 0.5 grams per serving. The change affected customers beyond New York as big chains like McDonald’s wound up cutting the fat system-wide.

The latest study by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows the effect. Researchers surveyed customers and collected receipts for nearly 15,000 lunchtime purchases at fast-food chains around the city in 2007 and 2009, before and after the ban was in place.

The amount of trans fat in each lunch sold dropped an average of 2.4 grams after the ban, researchers report in Tuesday’s edition of Annals of Internal Medicine. The biggest drop, 3.8 grams, occurred in hamburger chains, followed by Mexican food and fried chicken chains.

No one’s saying that turned junk food into health food. But for people who eat fast food regularly, it’s a significant reduction in heart risk, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The American Heart Association has long recommended that people limit trans fat to less than 2 grams a day. The newest government dietary guidelines urge people to eat as little trans fat as possible.


Mayor Bloomberg's proposed soft drink ban sets him up for a battle with corporate interests

People tend to consume food in units—typically whatever is in a bag, a bottle or a box. As bags, bottles, and boxes get larger, people consume more. Industry has systematically increased the sizes of these containers so they bear little relationship to what they were just a few decades ago.

Why focus on sugar-sweetened beverages? Why not focus on portions of pizza, fast food, or snack foods? Public health officials around the country have made reduction of SSBs a top priority. The reasons are clear. These products are the single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet, they represent empty calories (they have no nutrition at all), they are marketed aggressively by industry, and, most notably, they act on the body differently than calories contained in solid foods. People do not feel as if they have had as many calories when they are delivered in beverages.

NYC has stood strong against industry lobbing, with pioneering efforts in the past such as banning trans fats from restaurant foods and requiring restaurants to provide calorie information to consumers. Other cities and states have followed. It is important therefore, that NYC get it right. The portion size initiative is another example of strong leadership.


Bloomberg's visionary move against obesity

Americans drink more soda for the very simple reason: it’s getting cheaper. The inflation-adjusted price of soda has declined by an estimated 48% over the past 20 years. Improvements in packaging account for much of this price decline. It costs barely anything more to manufacture a 64-ounce “double gulp” container than to produce the former standard sizes.

Some object that the mayor’s proposal to restrict serving sizes will restrict liberty. But the liberty restricted is not the liberty of the soda-drinker. If they wish, soda drinkers can buy a 2-liter bottle of soda at the grocery for about $1.70 and pour as much of it down their throats as they wish. The liberty that is being restricted is the liberty of the soda seller to manipulate known human weaknesses to the seller’s advantage and the buyer’s detriment.

Human beings are not reasoning machines. We are animals who have inherited certain propensities not always well-adapted to modern urban life. We evolved in conditions of food scarcity. Our bodies have adapted to store food energy against famine; our subrational minds crave sweetness. The sugary beverage industry has invested massively to understand better how to use our very human natures against us.


Notes on the Soda “Ban”

1. Yes, soda is not the sole or leading cause of obesity. Clearly, though, it is helping to make people more obese. Nobody can possibly argue that it has a positive or neutral impact on the public’s health. Its effect on society is generally bad. And whether or not health care is socialized or privatized, we all feel the ripple effects of obesity-related diseases and deaths on our pocketbooks.  

2. Although Bloomberg’s proposal is being called a “soda ban,” soda is of course not being banned. Large portions of sugary drinks at delis, movie theaters, sports arenas, etc. will no longer be available for purchase. I’ve never heard of a “right” guaranteed by anyone or anything to have access to large sugary drinks in every place that sells soda. Just because one can currently buy a giant cup of Pepsi at a movie theater does not mean one is forever entitled to do so.

3. Because soda is not actually being banned, Bloomberg’s proposal cannot be equated with bans on other products. It is illegal to buy heroin but those who advocate legalizing this product also believe there should be restrictions and regulations attached to its sale. Alcohol is legal but it cannot be sold to anyone, anywhere, at any time. We restrict the access and sales of products all the time. Not all of these restrictions make sense but everyone, to one degree or another, believes in the restriction or regulation of certain products. These regulations ensure that consumers are engaged in fair and safe transactions.

4. Many of the arguments being used against the soda restriction are just patently false and disingenuous. For instance, Paul Ryan said ”Hey, look, I gave up pop for Lent three years ago. I haven’t had one since. But that’s up to you, do what you want with your life.” It shouldn’t be necessary to list the ways in which Paul Ryan doesn’t believe in allowing people to do what they want with their lives. 

5. When people argue that the soda restriction is outrageous because there are so many other unhealthy products available for sale, they are essentially implying a slippery slope argument: “If we ban the sale of large sugary drinks in certain places, then we’ll have to ban the sale of everything that is large and unhealthy.” Of course this is not the case and nobody has proposed nor would propose outlawing everything that could be considered unhealthy.

6. Another common argument is that it’s not government’s job to tell restaurants or sports arenas what they can serve or how much of a certain item they can serve. In fact, state and local governments regulate these things all the time. Most movie theaters are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages. Sports arenas can frequently only serve alcoholic beverages in certain quantities in certain containers for a certain amount of time. Fast food restaurants must comply with many restrictions designed to protect consumers from fraudulent or unhealthy products. Bloomberg’s soda restriction therefore is not unprecedented.    

7. The arguments against the soda restriction frequently ignore the obesity epidemic plaguing our country. This is an epidemic that effects everyone sooner or later and is entirely avoidable. Restricting soda container sizes is merely a drop in the bucket but it will result in less sugary drinks being consumed, which is a good thing.

8. We all know that smaller portions of soda are not going to suddenly reverse the rise of obesity rates. The soda restriction must be part of a larger initiative to provide healthier choices for the public. The thing that is perhaps most bizarre about the outrage over Bloomberg’s soda “ban” is that if it were to go into effect, everyone would adjust quickly and easily and nobody would feel that their rights were being violated because they couldn’t buy a big soda everywhere they went. It’s a rather small and simple idea designed to make the public more health-conscious. I fail to understand how this justifies such widespread ire.  


We’ve got this explosion of diabetes in America among young people. For the first time, Type II diabetes is showing up in 9-year-olds and among the Baby Boomers who are retiring. And together, these things are going to bankrupt us. It’s a terrible human tragedy, and it’s basically too much sugar going into the body, we can’t process it all.

So if you get rid of these giant, full-of-sugar, drinks and make people have smaller portions, it will help. I know a lot of people think, ‘Well, this is a nanny state and [Bloomberg is] interfering.’ But these are very serious problems. It’s like shortening your life and undermining the quality of your life and exploding the cost of our healthcare system.


If government can deny freedom to one, it can deny freedom to all. Exclusion and equality are mortal enemies – and in America, every time they have met in battle, equality has ultimately triumphed.

Throughout our history, each and every generation has expanded upon the freedoms won by their parents and grandparents. Each and every generation has removed some barrier to full participation in the American dream. That work is not over. Far from it.

And – I would argue – last week’s referendum banning same-sex marriage shows just how much more work needs to be done to ensure freedom and equality for all people.

When the torch passes from one generation to the next, the light of liberty always shines more brightly. And I have no doubt that in your lifetime, liberty’s light will allow us to see more clearly the truth of our nation’s founding principles, and allow us to see all people, and all couples, as full and equal members of the American family.

- Michael Bloomberg, speaking about the gay marriage ban while in North Carolina

Mayor Bloomberg launches national campaign against "shoot first" gun laws

The campaign aims to repeal or reform the laws that eliminated a person’s duty to retreat when threatened with serious bodily harm or death. The laws have passed in 25 states.

Bloomberg says these laws undermined integrity of justice system, threaten public safety and make it more difficult to prosecute shooters.


Michael Bloomberg: Federal Budgets and Class Warfare

I think the Bush tax cuts should expire for all Americans—you, me, everyone—as part of a long-term plan to rein in the deficit. We are all in this together.

The president asserts that 98% of Americans do not need to pay more in taxes, that we just need those earning more than $1 million to pay a minimum of 30% in federal income taxes. But according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, this plan would generate only $1.1 billion in revenue for the coming fiscal year. To put that in perspective, the federal government this year is spending $1.2 trillion more than it is taking in.

Whether you support it or not, the president’s tax plan is a political strategy, not an economic one. It will have virtually no bearing on the federal deficit or our ability to finance current spending levels.

The Republican presidential candidates have unveiled tax plans that are just as divorced from reality. They say they’ll make the Bush tax cuts permanent while also eliminating the deficit. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Republicans who emphasize economic freedom would have a lot more credibility if they’d stop promising a free lunch. Any candidate who says we can cut taxes and balance the budget is either delusional or dissembling.

As the two parties sketch out their general-election campaign platforms, both should commit to a reasonable and responsible goal—closing the deficit in 10 years. Even given Washington’s current dysfunction, this can be achieved through a simple two-step process: The president can declare that he will allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for all income levels, and Congress can take an up-or-down vote on the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan, as a bipartisan group of House centrists will propose this week. That plan calls for $4 trillion in savings by capping discretionary spending, slowing the growth of entitlement costs including Social Security, and raising revenue through tax reform.

The ‘stand the ground,’ as they’re called, laws are opposed by law enforcement and opposed by prosecutors. And there’s another issue, which I didn’t read very much about. The shooter, this guy Zimmerman, how could he have had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, a loaded gun in the first place? Because long before he shot Trayvon Martin, he was arrested for attacking a police officer and was the subject of a court order to prevent domestic violence.

But unfortunately, in Florida, the gun laws are very lax. And unfortunately, law-enforcement officials have never been able to revoke this guy’s license to carry a loaded gun in public.