There’s a big problem with the public health argument for the Big Soda Ban: There has never been evidence that limiting soda consumption to 16 ounces (as opposed to 8 ounces, or 6) can prevent or undo obesity. Nor evidence that doing away with big cups makes people thinner. But if you look past the grandstanding, it's clear that the Board - correctly - isn't convinced that soda is a serious hazard to the public's health.
A few members of the New York City Board of Health, as well as the mayor and commissioner, all talk about the need to curb obesity as a top priority. There's reason to question: If that's true, why is the Board merely limiting access to the largest sizes of soda? And why only in certain places? If obesity were really the public health crisis that they allege, and if soda were really causally linked to obesity as they claim, then the Board would be seriously derelict in doing nothing more than limiting access to big sodas in movie theaters and ballparks.
To me, obesity is not the sort of public health crisis meriting draconian action. And soda is not clearly enough linked to obesity to justify intense public policy change. Last week's move might look dynamic, but it seems that the NYC Board of Health actually agrees with me. The action is a minor slap on the wrists of refreshment purveyors - not a major policy move. The Board may be supporting the mayor's peeve about soda drinking but its claims to be acting to stem a public health crisis aren't very convincing.
(Editor's Note: Dr. Philip Alcabes, Ph.D., is an epidemiologist, professor in the School of Nursing and director of the public health program at Adelphi University. He is also the author of Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu, and has studied the history, ethics and policy of public health.