Bloomberg's big-soda ban has no fizz

Dave Shih of Manhattan sips a 32-ounce sugary

Dave Shih of Manhattan sips a 32-ounce sugary drink Photo Credit: (Nancy Borowick)

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In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week opened a new front in his war on soda. But it's a line of attack we just can't swallow.

Bloomberg is worried about obesity, which is driving up the rate of diabetes, and he's trying to get New Yorkers to cut down on sugary drinks.

He's tried before, in a couple of different ways. But Albany rejected his plans to tax soda. And Washington rejected his proposal to make it impossible to buy the stuff with food stamps.

So now the idea is to ban the sale of sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces at eateries regulated by the city's health department, including restaurants, ballparks and food trucks. The Bloomberg administration has the power to do this unilaterally thanks to its legal authority over dining establishments.

While the mayor deserves credit for attacking the problem of obesity head on -- and for pioneering a series of public health measures, such as banning trans fats in restaurants, that have been copied by many other locales -- this time he's gone too far.

Soda-guzzling is just one of the things that make people fat, and legislating portion sizes is unlikely to make anyone thinner. The mayor acknowledges that his plan wouldn't stop people from buying two or even three servings of a sweetened beverage instead of a single big one. And the big bottles would remain on sale in supermarkets and the like.

Bloomberg himself has shown there is a better way by taking the fight against obesity to child care centers and public schools. In both, the city mandated healthier food and more exercise. School nurses were trained to provide early intervention. A Body Mass Index and fitness report for each K-8 child is sent home to parents, with information on maintaining healthy weight.

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In just five years, this remarkable effort cut K-8 obesity by 5.5 percent. The city could also try battling obesity by using the kind of aggressive advertising campaign it has employed against smoking.

Such efforts are likely to bear more healthy fruit than going to war against the Big Gulp.

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