Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants, delis and movie theaters in the hopes of combating obesity — an expansion of his administration’s efforts to encourage healthy behavior by limiting residents’ choices.
The proposal — expected to be announced formally on Thursday in a City Hall briefing — would take 20-ounce soda bottles off the shelves of the city’s delis and eliminate super-sized sugary soft drinks from fast-food menus. It is the latest health effort by the administration to spark accusations that the city’s officials are overstepping into matters that should be left in the hands of individual consumers.
“There they go again,” said Stefan Friedman, spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association, who called the proposal “zealous” in a statement. “The New York City Health Department’s unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top. The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates.”
But City Hall officials, citing a 2006 study, argue that sugary drinks are the largest driver of rising calorie consumption and obesity. They note that sweet drinks are linked to long-term weight gain and increased rates of diabetes and heart disease.
The administration’s proposal would impose a 16-ounce limit on the size of sugary drinks sold at food service establishments, including restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts. It would apply to bottled drinks as well as fountain sodas.
The ban would apply only to drinks that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. It would not apply to diet soda or any other calorie-free drink. Any drink that is at least half milk or milk substitute would be exempted.
The ban, which could take effect as soon as March, would not apply to drinks sold in grocery or convenience stores that don’t serve prepared food. Establishments that don’t downsize would face fines of $200 after a three-month grace period.
Sugar is a mind altering drug. To give it up, it helped me to understand what is really going on with the cravings:
… a new study shows that sugar… shares an important addicting feature with substances like nicotine or heroin.
Many addictive substances initially make you feel good by releasing (or blocking reuptake of) substances in the brain that trigger pleasure, euphoria, focus, or energy. But your brain and body are not necessarily interested in sustaining your bliss. They are motivated to keep your systems steady and avoid extremes. Thanks to this drive for homeostasis, your brain and body learn to adapt to the effects of mood- and mind-altering substances.
For example, if a substance would normally trigger a flood of serotonin, your brain may adapt by reducing receptors for this neurotransmitter, or producing less serotonin. And when your brain expects that you are going to take the substance, it may swing in the opposite direction (reduced availability of serotonin) to counteract the expected effects of the drug. This anticipatory drop can create powerful cravings for the substance.
Through this process of adaptation, the addiction cycle is strengthened, and the addict needs the drug just to feel normal. Now it looks like the same process may be happening-at some level-with sugar.
Researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan were curious how the brain and body might adapt to the expectation of eating something sweet (1). They found that when mice expect a sweet treat, their brains release a chemical called orexin. Orexin triggers the body’s muscles to take up whatever sugar is circulating in the bloodstream. In this way, the body is preparing for an expected increase in blood sugar levels. This is a great adaptation if you eat the food, helping to keep blood sugar levels steady.
But what if you decide you want to resist the temptation of the sweets? Then the drop of blood sugar comes with two very unwanted side effects: cravings to eat, and decreased energy to resist. The result? It’s much harder to say no, and you may even need to eat to feel normal. Much like the cigarette addict who needs to smoke, or the pain medication addict who needs to take a pill, just to feel normal.