LONG ISLAND CITY — The Bloomberg administration was put on the hot again seat Tuesday morning when it presented its controversial proposal to ban large portions of sugary drinks at city food establishments to the Board of Health.
The plan would prohibit sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces from being sold in restaurants, movie theaters and at mobile street carts across the Big Apple. It would not affect the sale of diet sodas, juices or milk shakes.
Board members, however, asked why the administration decided to target sugary drinks instead of hamburgers, popcorn and milk shakes, which also contain many calories, but are exempted from the proposal.
"What about the size of a hamburger or jumbo fries?," asked board member Michael Phillips.
"The popcorn isn't a whole lot better, from the nutritional point of view," said another board member, Bruce Vladeck, referring to large popcorn portions sold at movie theaters.
The reason, said Susan Kansagra, Assistant Commissioner for Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control, is that sugary drinks have “minimum nutritional value” and are full of calories. Beverages that contain milk, for example, have some nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D, Kansagra explained.
Other board members asked about economic impact on large families, whether refills will be allowed and how the cut off of 16 ounces was decided.
“The reason these rules are being proposed is that obesity is epidemic among New Yorkers,” said Kansagra. “More than half of New York City adults are either overweight or obese and this proportion has been increasing.”
The board unanimously voted to publish the plan for public comments. The ban, which has become the topic of heated debate around the country, will now be the focus of a public hearing on July 24.
Only a few days ago, City Council members grilled city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on the controversial plan during a budget hearing. But some who were against the ban were spotted eating junk food as they criticized the mayor's proposal.
To become law, the ban must be approved by the Board of Health, which will vote on it on September 13. The ban would come into effect six months after the approval by the board.
Polls suggest New Yorkers seem to be split on the ban with roughly half supporting it and half saying the administration is going too far.