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From the NYC Soda Portion Cap Hearing: Rebutting Big Soda's Opposition

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I testified at the packed hearing in New York City on Wednesday July 24th in favor of Mayor Bloomberg's sugary drink portion size cap.

If I had to sum up the industry opposition expressed at the hearing it would be:

  • We need more focus on physical activity and less on fizzy drinks.
  • Education is the answer to NYC's obesity crisis and Big Soda has the programs in place to do that.
  • Mayor Bloomberg is trampling on consumer freedom.
  • This measure is a job killer.

And here's my rebuttal:

  • There is absolutely no evidence that an increase in physical activity, without a significant change in daily diet, will have an impact on obesity and Body Mass Indices.
  • If education worked, the consumption rate of sugary beverages would have already dropped significantly in NYC. The city has been running an excellent sugary drink education campaign for well over a year. Programs sponsored by the beverage industry (such as building playgrounds or supporting after-school activities) while nice, don't make a dent in the rate of childhood obesity. We need environmental change in our food system.
  • Industry has set the out-of-whack norms for sugary drink sizes in order to increase their profits. Remember, eight ounces is a single serving of a sugary drink and you can't buy that anywhere -- I've never even seen it on a kid's menu. At fast food outlets in NYC, 16 ounces is often the "small" size while 32 to 64 ounces is the "large." Consumer choice is a myth. Our choice is exactly what industry chooses to offer us, not what we want, need, or want to pay for.
  • No one presented any data to show that a 16 ounce portion cap on sugary drinks would result in job loss. The beverage industry always claims job loss will occur whenever it opposes any policy. It's a smokescreen designed to manipulate legislators and scare consumers.

I presented a slide (link below) that listed 18 likely beverage industry "astroturf" coalitions in the United States. These coalitions spring up wherever a portion cap or sugary drink tax is proposed. Media outlets have traced a number of these so-called "grassroots" coalitions and found that they are actually bankrolled and organized by the American Beverage Association through their hired issue advocacy firm, Goddard Gunster.

18 likely beverage industry "astroturf" coalitions

The deep-pocketed American Beverage Association, which is funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper/Snapple and others, apparently hopes to frame Mayor Bloomberg's proposal as a job-killing assault on consumer freedom that won't make a difference. But in reality, it's the beverage industry that has trampled on consumer freedom and health, by supersizing portion sizes to steadily increase profits. With the U.S. obesity and diabetes epidemics heavily linked to an increased consumption of sugary drinks, it's hardly a stretch to say that Big Soda's supersizing and marketing tactics are leading to increased rates of chronic disease and premature death.

I'm hopeful that the New York City Board of Health will approve the measure to bring portion sizes back to normal, and set a healthy example for the rest of the nation.