NY health official responds as criticism gets supersized


By Susan Heavey ,Reuters

WASHINGTON — New York City’s top health official shot back on Thursday at critics who have blasted the city’s plan to limit the sale of oversized sugary drinks such as soda, calling beverage industry opposition ridiculous. The proposed ban, which caps most sugar-sweetened beverages at 16 ounces (half a liter) and carries a US$200 fine for vendors that do not comply, met immediate backlash from beverage companies and others who argue it is government overreach, but was lauded by public health experts. “It’s not saying ‘no’ to people. It’s saying, ‘Are you sure? Do you really want that?’” Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner, said. “It’s sending people a message while giving people the freedom to drink as much as they want.” Speaking at a conference in Washington aimed at reducing the consumption of sugary beverages, Farley said drink makers were following the same playbook as tobacco companies that push back against government action aimed at protecting consumers from harmful products. Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald’s Corp. along with beverage industry groups have said consumers should be able to make their own drink choices and that sodas are not to blame for the nation’s soaring obesity rates. The industry has launched a wave of ads in response to New York’s plan, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last week.

Farley said sugary drink consumption may just be part of the U.S. obesity epidemic but that such products were the largest single source of sugar in the diet and had a major impact on health. Reducing obesity by just 10 percent in New York City would save about 500 lives a year, he added. “It’s ridiculous to say we shouldn’t try something that’s only going to solve a portion of the problem,” he said at the event, which was sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that has long advocated against junk food. American Beverage Association spokeswoman Karen Hanretty, in a statement, defended the industry’s response and said there was little support for Bloomberg’s proposal. Many people think the plan “has gone too far with a proposal that will do nothing to reduce the serious problem of obesity in America,” she said.