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The Battle Against Big Soda Continues

Below is a blog post just published for Huffington Post on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal on sugary beverages. Here is the link.

Several weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to restrict the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, movie theaters, and food carts in an effort to help combat the obesity epidemic in New York City. The mayor’s Task Force on Obesity states that “Americans consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks.”

As both a researcher tracking the sizes of food portions (soda included — I have many oversized soda cups in my collection) and as a nutritionist counseling overweight patients, I continue to stay abreast of the latest developments in the proposed restriction on the sale of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages over 16 ounces.

It seems as if Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal may be contagious.

Inspired by Mayor Bloomberg, Henrietta Davis, the mayor of Cambridge, Mass. has proposed limiting the size of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages sold in city restaurants. Mayor Davis cited an increased risk of obesity and diabetes as reasoning behind the resolution.

Many of the nation’s physicians treating obesity-related illnesses also support the mayor’s proposal, citing that 46 percent of the nation’s intake of added sugars comes from beverages. The American Medical Association (AMA) also recently endorsed taxing sugar-sweetened beverages to a penny per ounce.

As I previously wrote for The Huffington Post, I support Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for several reasons. Sugar-sweetened beverages are purely liquid calories and provide no nutrients, portion sizes of such foods have increased considerably over the last 50 years, and larger portions contain more calories than smaller portions and encourage overeating. I see it as a win-win situation.

The mayor of New York City is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much should be considered a reasonable amount to drink at a time. And 16 ounces is certainly more than a reasonable — that is a pint-size worth of sugar water. I do not see the proposal as a ban, but rather as an attempt to reset the norm for how much drink constitutes an appropriate portion. This is a much needed proposal in an era of oversized portions.

Others, however, disagree. Some argue that Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal violates personal freedom and that the city should not dictate what size drinks people buy. The soda industry complained that soda is being singled out, and it has a website devoted to its case: www.letsclearitup.org.

At issue is just how large soda sizes have gotten. In the 1950s, McDonald’s offered just one size, 7 ounces, and Burger King offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large.

The following chart illustrates just how out of control portion sizes — and calories — of soft drinks have gotten in fast food establishments.

McDonalds

Kids 12 oz. — 120 calories
Small 16 oz. — 150 calories
Med 21 oz. — 210 calories
Large 32 oz. — 310 calories

Burger King

Value 16 oz. — 140 calories
Small 20 oz. — 190 calories
Medium 30 oz. — 290 calories
Large 40 oz. — 380 calories

KFC

Small 16 oz. — 180 calories
Medium 20 oz. — 230 calories
Large 30 oz. — 350 calories
Mega Jug 64 oz. — 780 calories

Looking at the above chart, it is clear that most sizes currently sold will not be marketed if Mayor Bloomberg gets his way. And, I will argue, for good reason. They contain mega calories. For example, the small size soda (and only size allowed according to the proposal) at KFC contains 180 calories, while the 64-ounce mega jug contains nearly 800 calories.

New Yorkers may or may not be able to purchase jumbo sodas next spring, but the mayor’s proposal has put supersized beverages on the line and is getting a dialogue going about portion size, soda consumption, and obesity. That, in and of itself, is progress. I commend Mayor Bloomberg for raising our awareness to the problem with oversized beverages. I am proud to be a New Yorker and look forward to the day when I will no longer be able to collect oversized cups.

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