Heated debate over NYC big sugary drinks ban plan

(CBS News) NEW YORK - The debate over New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on large sugary drink serving sizes got louder at a public hearing Tuesday.

An overflow crowd sounded-off about it.

"I'm not overweight because of big-gulp sodas," said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. "Frankly, I'm overweight because I eat too much pasta, pastrami, bagels, cream cheese and lox, red velvet cake, cheese cake."

The issue before the city's Board of Health is whether to limit the serving sizes of sugary-drinks at city-regulated food establishments.

The idea, proposed by Bloomberg, is part of his effort to combat obesity.

"This is becoming a devastating public health issue. It's an epidemic," Bloomberg says.

But the proposal has sparked protests, from cries that the government is overreaching to complaints that enforcement would be haphazard.

The city can regulate restaurants but grocery stores, for instance, wouldn't be subjected to the same restrictions.

Among the loudest opponents are the food and beverage industries.

"We are concerned that this could trickle across the nation," says Joy Dubost, director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association. " ... The tactics that are taken are not effective in the sense that there's no evidence to indicate that this will impact obesity."

But Yale University's Dr. Kelly Brownell counters, pointing out, "There are plenty of scientific studies showing two things: If people are served larger portions, they eat more and second, they're not aware of it."

Brownell, who's with Yale's anti-obesity Rudd Center, notes that Americans consume, on average, 40-gallons of soda each year.

Soda, he says, is the "single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet. They are completely empty calories - they bring no nutrition at all."

Under the proposal, the biggest serving of a sugary drink would be 16 ounces.

Still, both supporters and opponents agree that nothing would prevent someone from having more than one serving.

The proposal would also keep restaurants from offering self-service cups bigger than 16-ounces and would impose a fine of as much as $200 per violation.

Speaking at the hearing, City Councilman Dan Halloran asked, "What will the government be telling me next? What time to go to bed? How big my steak should be?" He represents a district that's home to several sugary beverage bottlers, and says he worries about jobs - and the tax-base.

"Do you create two different lines of soda," Halloran asked. "One for New York City and one for everyone else? I don't think that's the answer."

Everyone CBS News spoke with, on both sides of the issue, agreed that, while it's a discussion in New York at the moment, city, it's by no means local.

Yale's Brownell says if it doesn't happen in New York now, it'll happen in Chicago or Philadelphia or Seattle or elsewhere -- soon.

To see Seth Doane's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Seth Doane

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