Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr. Lisa Young Headshot

Public Hearing on Sugary Drink Ban Gets an Overflowing Crowd

Posted: Updated:

It was a busy afternoon at the Gotham Center in Long Island City, the headquarters of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Today was the public hearing on Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to restrict the sizes of sugary beverages to no more than 16 fluid ounces in New York City food establishments. The Board of Health will vote on the proposal in September.

Advocates lined up at the public hearing to speak in favor of the ban on supersized beverages, while opponents complained that the ban was unfair and violated public freedom.

Channel 7 News featured a brief clip of my speech (below is my full speech) and that of several others. More than 60 people pre-registered to speak out while walk-ins were also permitted to sign up speak. It was standing room only.

Speaking in support of the ban was Dr. Walter Willett, a nutrition professor from the Harvard School of Public Health, who called soda in large amounts "metabolically toxic," and my colleague, public health lawyer Michele Simon, founder of Eat Drink Politics, who succinctly said that "it is the soda industry ... that has taken away the choice of reasonable portions."

A spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association complained that they were being singled out and said the ban "unfairly targets restaurants and small business owners..." and a spokesperson for the NYC American Beverage Association said the ban is "distracting us from the real issues" as they made sure to mention that they are responsible for 8,000 jobs in NYC.

Here is my five-minute speech in its entirety (a bell goes off if you speak more than five minutes) in support of the proposal:

"Good afternoon. I am Dr. Lisa Young. I am a nutritionist [in private practice], author of The Portion Teller Plan, a user-friendly weight-loss book on portion control, and an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

I am in support of Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to restrict the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks that are larger than 16 fluid ounces in food establishments such as restaurants, movie theaters, delis, and street carts. It would include the popular 20-ounce soda bottle from the corner deli and oversized fountain drinks available in fast-food establishments and movie theaters.

This campaign makes sense at a time when food portions have increased and so have rates of obesity. Obesity is currently a major public health concern in New York City and is caused by an imbalance of energy intake (calories in) and energy expenditure (calories out).

Sugary, sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic. The mayor's Task Force on Obesity states that "Americans consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks."

As a researcher tracking portion size trends, food portions have increased steadily over the years, and so have the waistlines of Americans. We have grown accustomed to oversized portions, and we have come to expect them. My research found that portion sizes are now two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s. When McDonald's opened, for example, the only size soda available was 7 ounces. When Burger King first opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large. Burger King's small is now 20 ounces and its large is 42 ounces. I think it is time to return to those more reasonable sizes.

In a new paper co-authored with my NYU colleague Dr. Marion Nestle, and due to be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, portion sizes in the first decade of the 21st century continued to increase despite public health initiatives encouraging the food industry to reduce portion sizes. It is now time for action.

Large portions may contribute to obesity in several ways. They contain more calories than small portions. For example, a small soda (which is 16 ounces) at the fast food chain KFC contains 180 calories, while the Mega Jug (which is 64 ounces) contains nearly 800 calories (and 50 teaspoons sugar). This cup holds a half gallon of soda; it is far too much soda for one person. Indeed, it contains more than one-third of the calories recommended for an entire day for certain segments of the U.S. population.

Large portions also encourage us to consume more and to underestimate how much we are really eating. Sugar-sweetened beverages, in particular, provide no nutritional value whatsoever. As a registered dietitian counseling clients on healthy eating, I advise eating a small portion of foods low in nutritional value.

Mayor Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can't drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much should be considered a reasonable amount to drink at a time. And 16 ounces is certainly more than reasonable -- that is a pint-size worth of sugar water. I do not see the proposal as a ban, but rather as an attempt to reset the norm for how much drink constitutes an appropriate portion. This is a much needed proposal in an era of oversized portions.

As an educator and clinician, I would absolutely continue to advocate for better education and public health campaigns. The NYC health department found that 15 percent of patrons improved their choices by looking at calorie counts on menu boards. Indeed, we need to take this a step further. And Mayor Bloomberg is taking action.

Given the health consequences and enormous cost of our country's obesity epidemic, it is time to return to eating less. And restricting the large sizes of unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverages is an excellent place to begin. Thank you."

It is my hope that by this time next year, it will be hard to find oversized cups on the streets of New York City.

Thoughts? Would love to hear them.

For more by Dr. Lisa Young, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.