Bloomberg’s Soda War: An Alternative Suggestion

New York city’s mayor is proposing another ban on risky health choices. He has already banned smoking in NYC bars among other things, now he extended his health concerns to soft drinks.
The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March. New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks ~NY Times

Bloomberg’s action will draw fire from several quarters. Some might challenge the Mayor with the assertion that the ordinance is tantamount to an attack on the poor. The challenge is grounded in the fact the poorer people consume the cheaper and less healthy foods. Therefore, by removing this option, the mayor is removing an affordable food option from them. Andrea Freedman notes, “Fast food has become a major source of nutrition in low-income, urban neighborhoods across the United States. Although some social and cultural factors account for fast food’s overwhelming popularity, targeted marketing, infiltration into schools, government subsidies, and federal food policy each play a significant role in denying inner-city people of color access to healthy food.”[1] Freedman calls this activity “food oppression.” Much of the poor dietary habits in lower income neighborhoods are the result of what many have called “food deserts.” Food deserts are locations that have little/no healthy food options available. Paul Shigley suggests, “Today, while the term food desert has gone out of favor with advocates, the lack of access to healthy food persists. Grocery store chains demonstrate little interest in poor, urban communities because the demographics do not meet the industry’s ideal and because, as noted, the big grocers are looking for big sites. At the same time, fast food outlets pop up everywhere.”[2]

Still others may challenge the mayor by suggesting a tax the larger sodas to reduce the consumption and offset healthcare issues with the revenue. Setting aside the issue of integrity with regard to proper allocation of the tax revenue, there is other undesirable consequence. Mel Shipp asserts, “Clearly, a fast food tax would disproportionately impact people with limited income or access to healthy food. A better alternative would be increased access to nutritious groceries in communities characterized as food deserts.”[3]

So perhaps instead on limiting sugared drink choices available to New Yorkers, Mayor Bloomberg should consider a less political and more meaningful option: populate his poorer neighborhoods with healthier food choices. One way he could do this is by creating incentives for grocery and healthy food restaurants to infiltrate these neighborhoods. This would both create jobs and healthy citizens. In creating these incentive laden zones, stores could index their prices to income levels of that particular neighborhood. In return for their neighborhood commitment, stores could receive tax incentives or other incentive types that are routinely given to other industries for creating jobs in a given city or state. Creating long term solution to the food crisis in poorer neighborhoods seems to a more meaningful solution to the obesity problem than a ban on soft drinks. It would also produce a peace treaty on whom the mayor has really declared war: the poor.

[1] Freeman, Andrea. 2007. “Fast Food: Oppression Through Poor Nutrition.” California Law Review 95, no. 6: 2221.

[2] Shigley, Paul. August 2009. “When Access Is the Issue.” Planning 75, no. 8: 28.

[3] Shipp, Mel. 2012. “Improving U.S. health: Is it time to revisit taxes on fast food?.” Nation’s Health 42, no. 3: 3




Filed under Community, Ethics

2 responses to “Bloomberg’s Soda War: An Alternative Suggestion

  1. Tom Littlejohn

    I am not a nutritionist, but from what I have read, and what I have observed, I believe the New York plan will actually INCREASE obesity rather than reduce it. I don’t know an overweight person who drinks non-diet soda. I know many who drink diet soda. And the article below suggests a correlation between diet soda and weight gain. So, in true form, the government makes a problem worse.

  2. I can’t figure this one out either. I have read similar reports to the one you mentioned and it seems like he is going in the wring direction. I just can’t understand why he would want to take on an unpopular fight unless he wants to claim taking down the Soda Giants. It appears to be a no-win for him and a no win for NYC.