Mayor Bloomberg's proposed soft drink ban sets him up for a battle with corporate interests.
My boyhood included occasional sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)--in 6½-ounce bottles. The current default is triple that size--a 20-ounce bottle--with many sizes larger yet. McDonald's has a 32-ounce serving and Burger King has 42 ounces. KFC has a 64-ounce Mega Jug, and the large soda at Regal Movie Theaters is 54 ounces. There are many more such beverages--entire new categories such as sports drinks, teas, vitamin waters, and energy drinks--sold at every turn and marketed heavily to both adults and children.
As everyone knows by now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, in concert with the NYC health department, is proposing to address this through a regulation that would limit the size of sugar-sweetened beverages sold in restaurants, movie theaters, and street carts to no more than 16 ounces. Is this good policy? The reaction has certainly been mixed, and even Brian Wansink, my colleague and friend, who did some of the portion-size studies the health department cited in announcing the ban, says he thinks it won't work . I do.
The big soda companies and restaurant industry have, of course, already begun to fight this with everything they have, as Marion Nestle has been tracking. They have reason to be concerned. Profit margins on these beverages are enormous--90 percent, as compared to, for example, 10 percent for produce. And profits increase as people buy bigger portions. The additional cost for the soda companies and restaurants to serve larger sizes may be mere cents for a larger cup and the extra liquid. Consumers are willing to pay much more than these few cents. The companies cash in. Consumers lose.