Overweight People Impacted More Than The Poor If Soda Bans Took Effect
June 13, 2013

Overweight People Impacted More Than The Poor If Soda Bans Took Effect

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

UPDATE - June 13, 2013:

The American Beverage Association contacted redOrbit today (June 13, 2013) with this comment: "Obesity is a complex issue with many contributing factors beyond one type of food or beverage. A recent report found that in 2010, U.S. youth consumed 68 fewer calories and adults 45 fewer calories per day from added sugar in soft drinks than in 2000, yet obesity rates continue to rise. It's time for a comprehensive approach to addressing obesity."

ORIGINAL - June 12, 2013:

In a new study that will undoubtedly be well-received at Gracie Mansion in New York City, Columbia University researchers have found that restricting the sale of large sugary beverages in restaurants and other outlets would have the greatest impact on overweight people.

The study strengthens the argument of the New York City Board of Health and Mayor Michael Bloomberg who have tried to enact just such a ban only to see it get canned back in March. Some critics of the policy said the ban would disproportionally affect poor people — a conclusion not supported by the Columbia study.

According to the new study, a New York City-style ban would affect 7.5 percent of Americans on a given day, mostly those who are overweight — including almost 14 percent of overweight teenagers.

"Our findings are clear: a law like this would address one of the fundamental causes of obesity–the growing portion size of sweetened drinks," said lead author Dr. Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia.

In the study, Wang and her Columbia associate Seanna M. Vine analyzed over 19,000 dietary records from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 2007 to 2010.

The Columbia team found that although about 60 percent of Americans consume at least one sugary drink, only 7.5 percent purchased them from a food vendor in portions larger than 16 ounces. The researchers also found that 8.6 percent of those who were overweight purchased the big drinks, compared to 6.4 percent of those who aren't overweight.

When economic factors were taken into consideration, the team found no difference in the consumption of large sugary drinks between those eligible for food stamp-type assistance and those with higher incomes.

Because the study only took the beverages purchased at restaurants into consideration, its results weren´t consistent with previous research that has found low-income Americans are more likely to consume sugary beverages in a given day than higher-income groups, according to Wang.

"Buying a large soda and drinking it at home costs less," she noted.

The Columbia scientist noted that a cap on portion sizes could simply shift consumption of sugary drinks to the home.

"Changing social norms is difficult, but as portion sizes have grown, it's useful to establish a new standard,” Wang said.

The new study comes as a New York State appeals court is hearing oral arguments on the proposed ban this week. During the proceedings, the appeals court judges reportedly grilled city attorney Fay Ng over the scientific and legal foundations for the ban.

Justice David Friedman argued that the city could be looking for a legal ruling to implement other similar regulations, including "the number of doughnuts a person could eat, the number of scoops of ice cream" and amount of fried chicken allowable.

A lawyer for the American Beverage Association and other groups that collectively challenged the ban told the court the regulation was "a breathtaking example of agency overreach."

"For the first time, this agency is telling the public how much of a safe and lawful beverage it can drink," attorney Richard Bress said. "This is the government coercing lifestyle decisions."

Wang's study is published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.