published Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Weight loss groups back NYC's sugary drinks plan

  • photo
    A man leaves a 7-Eleven store with a Double Gulp drink in New York. If New York City bans big sodas, what's next? Large slices of pizza? Double-scoop ice cream cones? Tubs of movie-theater popcorn? The 16-ounce strip steak? Opponents of the proposed ban may use that slippery-slope argument along with other legal strategies to try to block the first-in-the-nation rule.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JENNIFER PELTZ

NEW YORK (AP) — The city's planned crackdown on super-sized sugary drinks got prominent backing Tuesday from Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and other diet companies, who added their influence to the campaign ahead of a vote next week.

The announcement — made at a press conference featuring Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a top Weight Watchers official — was the latest in a volley of statements of support for both advocates and critics of the plan, which calls for restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, food carts and delis to stop selling sodas and other sugary drinks in servings larger than 16 ounces.

Bloomberg and other proponents call it a sensible way to encourage people to cut calories. Opponents see it as government overreaching and question its effectiveness.

To the diet groups, it's a tool that fits with their approach to making healthy eating easier.

"Today, we live in a world where despite our best intentions, it's oftentimes very difficult on your own to make the healthy choice," said David Burwick, president of Weight Watchers North America. "We all need to take more personal responsibility for our own weight and eating habits, but it helps to remember what a healthy portion size is in a world where super-size portions have become the norm."

The proposal is set for a Sept. 13 vote at the city Board of Health, whose members are appointed by Bloomberg. If approved, it would take effect as early as March.

Bloomberg has been the leading advocate for the plan, which follows other efforts to spur New Yorkers to mind what they eat. During his 11-year tenure, the city has barred artificial trans fats from food served in restaurants and compelled chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus.

Still, the city spends roughly $4 billion a year on weight-related health problems, the mayor says. He sees limiting the serving size of sugary drinks as a meaningful step — but not an inflexible order — to keep people from downing calories they might not even think about.

"Nobody is restricting the amount of sodas you can buy or the amount of sodas you can drink," he said, noting that people would be free to purchase multiple 16-ounce cups or bottles if they liked. "It is simply using portion control to point out to you ... how many calories you are consuming."

Along with Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, the creator of the South Beach Diet, the founder of The Best Life and other diet experts expressed their support. City Hall also has released a roster of kudos from people including physicians, elected officials, chef Jamie Oliver and filmmaker Spike Lee.

Critics, too, are counting their ranks.

An opposition group called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices said it has the backing of more than 2,000 businesses and 201,000 people. A New York Times poll last month showed that six in 10 New Yorkers opposed the plan.

Opponents say the city is overstepping its authority and infringing on personal freedom. And they call the diet companies' stance inconsistent with their own emphasis on letting people make food choices, rather than absolute limits.

"Restrictions and bans will do nothing to address the very complex issue of obesity," New Yorkers for Beverage Choices said in a statement Tuesday. "New Yorkers are smart enough to make their own decisions."

Some City Council members support the proposal; others have criticized it. Regardless, it isn't scheduled to come before them for a vote.

The rule wouldn't apply to lower-calorie drinks, such as water or diet soda, nor to alcoholic beverages or drinks that are more than half milk or 70 percent juice.

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