‘We cannot continue to have our kids come down with diabetes at age six’

Bloomberg in City Hall. (via NYC.gov)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke strongly in defense of his administration's ban on big servings of sugary drinks, following the Board of Health's long anticipated approval of the proposal.

"We cannot continue to have our kids come down with diabetes at age six," he said.

According to the Bloomberg administration, one in eight New York City adults has diabetes, with particular concentrations in poor and minority communities. In the Bronx, 70 percent of adults are estimated to be overweight or obese, compared to 58 percent citywide.

"We're talking about adults and kids who are dying," said Bloomberg. "And kids, if they are obese as kids, the likelihood of them being very obese as an adult is statistically very high."

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In May, the administration announced that it was considering banning servings of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. The ban would apply only to establishments regulated by the city's health department, including some bodegas, stadiums, movie theaters and restaurants.

The reaction from the beverage industry was swift and, predictably, quite negative.

But the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The mayor needed only the support of the Board of Health, whose members he appointed. 

On Thursday, they voted, eight in favor and zero against. One member abstained, another didn't show up.

Shortly thereafter, the mayor convened a press conference in City Hall to answer questions on the vote, and to announce that Bruce Ratner, the developer of the new Nets stadium at Barclays Center, would implement the new regulations as soon as the arena opens this month, and six months ahead of the implementation deadline.

Bloomberg said Ratner would, among other things, "be able to go home and look yourself in the mirror and say, 'You know, I did what was right.'" He also called him, "my hero."

Ratner returned the favor: "No, Mr. Mayor you are my hero, you really are, by doing this today."

The ban does not apply to drinks that have fewer than 25 calories per 8 ounces, or milk-based beverages. Nor does it apply to juices made entirely from fruit or vegetables.

Grocery stores, which are regulated by the state, will not be impacted.

I emailed the governor's spokesman to see if he had any comment on the new regulation, or the state's interest (or lack thereof) in implementing a similar one. He had no immediate response.

But the city's health commissioner, Thomas Farley, compared the ban to some of the Board of Health's historic success stories.

"In the 1800s, the Board of Health required physicians to report cases of tuberculosis to control tuberculosis," said Farley. "In 1959, the Board of Health banned the use of lead in paint, to prevent brain damage in our children. In 2006, the Board of Health banned the use of artifical transfats in restaurants. All those actions were controversial at the time."

Similarly, Bloomberg said today, "This is not gonna be a controversial thing."