NEW YORK - New York on Thursday became the first city in the United States to impose a limited ban on super-sized soda drinks blamed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for fueling a national obesity crisis.
The Board of Health's formal approval of the ban -- proposed by Bloomberg and hailed by health campaigners, but hotly opposed by soft drinks manufacturers -- was not considered a surprise.
The city health commissioner, Thomas Farley, called the vote "historic."
However, Liz Berman, president of Continental Food and Beverage and head of the New Yorkers for Beverage Choices lobby group, described the "discriminatory ban" as a "fix."
"It's sad that the board wants to limit our choices. We are smart enough to make our own decisions about what to eat and drink," she said in a statement.
The prohibition restricts soda drink servings to a maximum of 16 ounces in fast-food and other restaurants and places of public entertainment like stadiums. That's more than a normal can, but only half the size of the biggest, bucket-like container that patrons commonly guzzle from in cinemas, sports arenas and other outlets.
However, there is nothing to stop people from buying as much soda as they like by refilling smaller containers. Also, the ban does not extend to drinks sold in supermarkets or any dairy or fruit drinks, many of which also contain huge quantities of sugar.
Diet and alcoholic drinks are also exempted.
The measure, which could face legal challenges from the soft drinks industry, takes effect in six months.
According to official statistics, some 6,000 people in New York die each year from obesity-linked problems. One in eight adult New Yorkers has diabetes, which can be aggravated by sugar consumption.
Although the measure is very far from being a ban on the over-indulgence of sugary drinks, the disappearance of mega-sized cups in many establishments will at least make people more aware of what they're consuming, Bloomberg says.
"New Yorkers will soon consume fewer junk calories and eventually begin turning the tide of the obesity epidemic that is destroying the health of far too many of our citizens," he said.
Boosting the mayor, the newly-built basketball stadium for the Brooklyn Nets announced it will immediately adopt the rules, well head of the March 12 deadline.
The measure generated a stormy debate, including 38,000 comments written to the Board of Health. Polls showed a majority of people opposed the ban.
Bloomberg has made public health a key plank of his administration, banning smoking in restaurants, bars and most lately parks and beaches.
New Yorkers for Beverage Choices suggested that Bloomberg is out of control. "If this now, what's next?" the group asked on its website.
"NYers want to be heard, not ignored," the organization Tweeted. "Today's #NYC Board of Health vote does NOT reflect that."
Other skeptics say that the deepening US obesity epidemic can be linked as much, or more, to lack of exercise or eating too much junk food, like French fries, as to soda drinks.
Writing in the Daily News on Thursday, Health Commissioner Farley said the limit on portions at restaurants wasn't a cure-all, but that doing nothing was not an option.
"This epidemic is not a communicable disease like influenza, but it is more dangerous and more deadly. Obesity causes diseases such as diabetes and heart attacks. Those diseases kill."
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