Bloomberg's Anti-Science Soda Ban is Thrown Out

Bloomberg's Anti-Science Soda Ban is Thrown Out
March 12, 2013

Benjamin Domenech

Benjamin Domenech (bdomenech@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. Domenech... (read full bio)

A New York judge has halted Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sodas of unusual size. “The judge ruled the regulations are "fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences," noting how there would be uneven enforcement within a single city block. The regulations didn't affect the Big Gulp at 7-11 because supermarkets and convenience stores are regulated by the state, not the city.” Bloomberg was going to equip a roving band of drink size checkers, like something out of Demolition Man.

Lost in the argument about Bloomberg’s technocratic overreach is how much his approach is at odds with research on the way soda taxes impact obesity, despite the left’s claims to honor and worship science with perfect fealty. TPM argues (correlation equals causation style) that Bloomberg is on the side of science against those fat backwards soda lovers. That’s amusing, considering how anti-science Bloomberg’s taxpayer funded propaganda was:

“In the midst of a legislative fight over taxing sodas last year, the New York City health department put together a media campaign about how drinking a can of soda a day “can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.” But behind this simple claim was a protracted dispute in the department over the scientific validity of directly linking sugar consumption to weight gain — one in which the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, overruled three subordinates, including his chief nutritionist.

“CAUTION,” the nutritionist, Cathy Nonas, wrote in a memorandum to her colleagues on Aug. 20, 2009. “As we get into this exacting science, the idea of a sugary drink becoming fat is absurd.” The scientists, she said, “will make mincemeat of us.”

But Dr. Farley argued that the advertisements had to have a message that would motivate people to change their behavior. “I think what people fear is getting fat,” he wrote.”

The problem is that studies are nearly unanimous that taxing sodas, or making them cost more, as Bloomberg does, simply shifts consumption. From Regulation: 

“Uniformly, studies looking at the effect of actual soda taxes implemented at the state level find that, while the taxes do lead to a moderate decrease in soda consumption, the net effect on obesity is next to zero. Studies looking at data covering the full menu of consumption choices show that when people reduce their drinking of soda, they substitute to other calorie-dense drinks like milk and juice.”

In 2009, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that out of all the studies about this issue, none of them have shown any significant weight benefits for reducing soda consumption:  

“Considering only the studies’ primary analyses of their total sample of participants reveals that none has shown a statistically significant effect of reducing [sweetened soda] consumption on mean body weight, body mass index, or adiposity. Only 1 study reported a significant effect on the probability of being overweight, and this effect was not maintained at follow-up.”

In other words, people just substitute other caloric intake for what they had before – instead of having that large Coke, they eat a piece of cake. And the rest of us have to put up with fearmongering and having to put our own flavoring in our dang coffee.

Benjamin Domenech

Benjamin Domenech (bdomenech@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. Domenech... (read full bio)