The ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces—aka the "soda ban"—was passed by the Board of Health yesterday and will go into effect in mid-March 2013. Mayor Bloomberg is feeling pretty triumphant, but how do New Yorkers, especially those who love to choose how much empty-calorie beverage they get to drink, feel? Liz Fields and her fellow Columbia School of Journalism students filed this report:
When voting to ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks this morning, New York City Board of Health members noted that of 38,000 public comments they received on the issue, 32,000 supported it.
But on the streets of New York, it was far easier to find critics than supporters of the ban. In interviews with more than 150 people across the city’s five boroughs, reporters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism found that a large majority considered the ban a government intrusion on their personal choices - a sentiment similar to views expressed in public opinion polls taken before the vote.
On Staten Island, in Crown Heights, on the streets of East Harlem and elsewhere, many interviewed were particularly passionate about the ban’s biggest booster, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Control freak” was one of the kinder descriptions of the man who initiated the effort to limit sugary drinks at the city’s food service establishments to 16 ounce cups or smaller.
Other exasperated opponents called the mayor a “dictator,” even “Hitler without the killing and putting everybody in concentration camps.”
"If people want to be fat, let them be fat,” said Pedro Flores, a 61-year-old supervisor for the city transit department, interviewed in Harlem. “What is this going to be, like communism?”
“People should make their own decisions,” said Carol Scully, a 46-year-old payroll auditor, who spoke outside a midtown Starbucks. “It’s the American way. It’s a free country, and soda’s legal.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley called the decision a "historic step to address a major health problem,” but some city residents saw the issue in more personal terms, saying it should be about personal rights and responsibilities.
“It’s my choice and my decision what I want to drink,” said Raymond Santiago, 44, a security officer from Staten Island. Of the mayor, Santiago said, “He’s not my nanny!”
Others called the soda ban an infringement on their parental rights.
“If my children wanted a soft drink, it should be up to me as a mother to regulate that,” said Terri Decker, a mother of two from Manhattan.
However, some parents said they welcomed government intervention to promote public health, especially in curbing the city’s growing obesity problem. According to Department of Health statistics, more than half of New York City adults are overweight or obese, and 20 percent of school-aged children are obese, putting them at risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
“I have a nephew who is clinically obese from drinking oversized soda,” said Patti McCloskey, a retired mother living in the Upper West Side. “So I'm all in favor of it, as a mother, as a consumer, as a New Yorker.”
Paralegal Zulma Maldonado of the Bronx said she does not drink sodas herself but believes the ban is good for children. “They drink too much soda,” she said. “I see them drinking it all the time - even in the morning, and that is just not a healthy way to begin a day.”
But some who support the ban are still skeptical that it will be effective in limiting the consumption of soda and sugary drinks.
"If a kid is obese, that starts at the household with what their parents are feeding them -- it doesn't start at a fast food restaurant,” said Corey Gadsden, 32, who works in Hunts Point.
The health board members called their vote this morning a blow against high obesity rates, which they say cause 5,000 deaths in the city annually and cost the city $4.7 billion a year.
“The evidence that obesity is a crisis is overwhelming,” said Dr Joel Forman, one of the board members. “It is fantastic that New York has acted as a leader in the past, and I hope this will spread nationwide."
But some interviewed this morning as the board took its vote said the city and its mayor have bigger issues to worry about.
“He needs to worry about getting people off the streets, about rent control, food and cutting after school programs,” said Cliff Jones, 42, an unemployed resident of East Harlem.
“I have a problem with intrusive government,” said construction worker Rich Sperling in Washington Heights, who offered a tongue-in-cheek alternative: require soda machines to be put in a remote corner of each food outlet. “And you got to get on a treadmill to get to it.”
Katie Akagi, Aisha Asif, Nastasia Boulos, Lauren Davidson, Paul De Andrade, Lance Dixon, Samuel Dudley, Alma Fausto, Liz Fields, Coral Garnick, Luke Kerr-Dineen, Seth Maxon, Rebekah Mintzer, Srila Nayak, Edirin Oputu, Izabela Rutkowski and Wenxiong Zhang also contributed to this report.