NYC bans big, sugary drinks at restaurants

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NEW YORK (AP) - Over a decade, New York City has outlawed smoking in bars and offices, banned trans fats, and forced fast-food restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus.

Now, the Big Apple has set its sights on sugary beverages with a first-in-the-nation rule barring restaurants, cafeterias and concessions stands from selling soda and other calorie-rich drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Will it make a difference, or be just another health lifestyle initiative that people ignore?

Public health experts around the nation _ and the restaurant and soft-drink industry _ will be watching closely to see whether the new restrictions on supersized colas, adopted Thursday by the city’s Board of Health, lead to changes in the way New Yorkers eat and drink.

No other U.S. city has tried to fight the obesity epidemic by restricting portion sizes at restaurants, but city officials said they were willing to take dramatic action as a way of getting a skeptical public to embrace the idea that empty-calorie foods are a menace.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t mince words Thursday in describing the role that sugary beverages have played in the obesity epidemic: He likened the restrictions on caloric soft drinks to banning lead paint, and cited the surge in young children being diagnosed with a type of diabetes more commonly found in overweight adults.

“We are dealing with a crisis … we need to act on this,” said Board of Health member Deepthiman Gowda, a professor of medicine at Columbia University.

So will New Yorkers listen, or simply get their next 20-ounce soda at the many thousands of convenience stores and supermarkets not covered by the rule?

By nature, many are likely to see the restrictions as an infringement on personal liberty. A New York Times poll last month showed that six in 10 New Yorkers opposed the rule.

“It’s a slippery slope. When does it stop? What comes next?” said Sebastian Lopez, a college student from Queens, adding that even though he isn’t much of a soda drinker, “This is my life. I should be able to do what I want.”

The regulations apply to any establishment with a food-service license, from the delis and theaters of Broadway, to the concession stands at Yankee Stadium and the pizzerias of Little Italy.

There are exceptions for beverages made mostly of milk or unsweetened fruit juice.

Complying might prove complicated for some establishments, and health officials said they would set up a process for restaurants to submit recipes if there was a question about what drinks were covered.

Starbucks is trying to figure out whether it will be barred from selling Frappuccinos in the 24-ounce size. The drink is loaded with calories, but is also made with a significant amount of milk. New York’s new rule would exempt products that are at least 50 percent milk.

Another issue could be iced coffee, which many cafes sweeten with liquefied sugar. Customers might now have to add the sweetener themselves.

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