MCLEAN - Sugary drinks, to some, are the bane of obesity€™s existence. Although the truth behind this claim depends on who you ask, which advocacy group squawks the loudest, or whose "scientific evidence" you choose to believe.
By now, most of America (if not the world) has read about New York City Mayor Bloomberg€™s idea to ban the sale of 16-ounce or larger soft drinks in one of the most populous metropolitans within the United States.
"In New York City nearly 60% of adults and nearly 40% of children are overweight or obese and there are real world consequences," said Mayor Bloomberg. "People€™s lives will be shorter, their quality of life is going to be dramatically reduced and obesity is going to start killing more people in this country than smoking. Obesity is the only major public health issue we have that is getting worse and New York City has the courage to stand up and do something about it."
In New York City, 21.3% kids (age 6 to 11) are obese, compared 19.6% nationally. The culprit, or at least the product that is taking most of the heat: copious amounts of soda.
The Mayor€™s Task Force on Obesity has launched a set of initiatives that over the next five years would:
- Reduce the percent of adult city residents who are obese by 10% (23.4% to 21.1%)
- Reduce the percent of children (K-8th grade) who are obese by 15% (20.7% to 17.6%)
- Reduce the percent of adult residents who:
- Consume one or more sugary drinks per day by 30% (30.3% to 21.2%
- Consume no servings of fruits and vegetables in the previous day by 30% (11.6% to 8.1%)
- Report no physical activity in the past 30 days by 15% (27.3% to 23.3%)
To hit these goals, the Task Force is seeking to limit the size of "sugary drinks sold in foodservice establishments to 16 ounces or less. This would apply to restaurants, mobile food carts, delis, concessions at movie theaters, stadiums and arenas."
Obesity is a problem; there are no doubts about that. But the solution is not as cut and dry as banning 16-ounce sodas; the scientific evidence that sodas are blowing up America€™s waistlines is lacking.
There "is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity," Katie Bayne, Coca-Cola president of sparkling beverages in North America, told USA Today last week.
Bayne said that from 1999 through 2010, when obesity was rising, sugar intake from beverages was actually decreasing. And during that same time period, sugars from soda consumption fell 39% even as the percentage of obese kids jumped 13% and obese adults rose 7%.
Bloomberg€™s deputy press secretary Samantha Levine fired back against Coke€™s data, telling USA Today that sugary beverages "are a key driver of the obesity crisis that is killing 5,800 New Yorkers and costing the city $4 billion annually."
Bayne agreed with Bloomberg that obesity is a critical issue, but disagreed on bans and policies that single out certain brands and foods as a solution. "Working together in partnership will," she told the newspaper.
The food wars are clearly heating up. (See the February 2012 NACS Magazine cover story on the food police.) Although Bloomberg did not single out convenience stores in his proposed soft drink ban, First Lady Michele Obama did when announcing her initiative to eradicate so-called food deserts.
In the past two years NACS has sought industry feedback on how retailers are providing consumers with merchandise and foodservice choices for healthy foods and beverages. We€™ve tackled the issue in NACS Magazine and spoken with members of Congress about the role convenience stores play in every community across the United States:
- We are a convenient part of everyday lives and consumers€™ needs
- We offer consumers convenient choices
- We are community focused, sponsoring calories in/calories out programs such as youth sports
Our industry€™s 148,000-plus stores conduct 160 million transactions a day. Convenience stores are a destination for healthy choices and have a great story to tell. Help NACS tell our industry€™s story so that we can help best communicate our industry€™s message to legislators. Contact Jeff Lenard and share ideas and solutions that your company is implementing to bring healthy choices to your customers.