Seeking to combat rising obesity rates, the New York City Board of Health approved on Thursday a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters, enacting the first restriction of its kind in the country.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who proposed the measure, celebrated its passage on Twitter.
The measure, unless blocked by a judge, will take effect in six months. The health board vote was the only regulatory approval needed to become binding in the city, but the American soft-drink industry has strongly opposed the plan and vowed this week to try to fight the measure by other means, possibly in the courts.
“This is not the end,” Eliot Hoff, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, an industry-financed group opposed to the soda-sales restrictions, said in an e-mail moments after the vote. “We are exploring legal options, and all other avenues available to us.”
The plan is a marquee initiative of the Bloomberg administration, which is known for introducing ambitious – and, some say, overreaching – public health policies, including a ban on smoking in bars and the posting of calorie counts on chain restaurant menus.
The soda measure would bar the sale of sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, smaller than the size of a common soda bottle. It would affect a range of popular sweetened beverages, including energy drinks, presweetened iced teas and common brands of nondiet soda.
The restrictions would not affect fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; no-calorie diet sodas would not be affected, but establishments with self-service drink fountains, like many fast-food restaurants, would not be allowed to stock cups larger than 16 ounces.
Only establishments that receive inspection grades from the health department would have to obey the rules, a group that includes movie theaters and stadium concession stands. Convenience stores, including 7-Eleven and its king-size “Big Gulp” drinks, would be exempt, along with vending machines and some newsstands.
The health board, whose members were appointed by the mayor, voted eight to zero, with one abstention, to approve the measure just after 11 a.m. Thursday. The member who abstained, Sixto R. Caro, is a former president of the Spanish American Medical Dental Society of New York who was appointed by Mr. Bloomberg in 2002. He expressed concern before the vote about the financial impact of the proposal on some small businesses.
The supporters said they believed the measure would help combat obesity.
Sandro Galea, who joined the board this year, said he believed that “the evidence is very clear that sugary drinks are contributing to obesity epidemic.”
“The argument that this is restricting choice is a false argument,” Mr. Galea said, noting that customers could purchase as many smaller drinks as they would like. “The identification of threats to the health of the public is a core function of the department.”
Dr. Deepthiman K. Gowda, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and a member of the health board, said he recognized that the public had concerns about the plan. But he said he had seen the deadly effect of obesity on patients he treats in the city.
“The same way that we’ve become acclimatized and normalized to sodas that are 32 ounces, we’ve started to become acclimatized to the prevalence of obesity in our society,” Dr. Gowda said. “The reality is, we are in a crisis, and I think we have to act on this.”
In its presentation, the health department said it believed 5,000 New Yorkers die annually for reasons related to obesity and overweightness. Joel A. Forman, a board member and professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said he believed there was strong evidence to show a link between sweet drinks and obesity.
“I can’t imagine the board not acting on another problem that is killing 5,000 people per year,” Dr. Forman said, before voting to approve the proposal.
Mr. Bloomberg has made curbing obesity a top goal for his administration, citing higher rates of diabetes and fatalities among the city’s more overweight neighborhoods. More than half of adult New Yorkers are obese or overweight, according to the city’s health department.
Mr. Bloomberg has said the plan does not limit consumers’ choices, since customers can still purchase as many 16-ounce drinks as they would like. The soft-drink industry, which has spent more $1 million on a public-relations campaign opposing the plan, has argued that the policy restricts consumers’ freedom to buy beverages as they see fit.
Opinion among city lawmakers has been mixed. Several City Council members, including many members of the council’s minority caucus, said the plan would adversely affect small businesses, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. A resolution against the plan has been circulated in the City Council, but the speaker, Christine C. Quinn, has not put the measure to a vote.
Six in 10 residents said they thought the plan was a bad idea in a recent poll by The New York Times. But advocates have argued that public opinion on health measures can change over time.
Pamela Brier, the president of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and a member of the health board, said she recognized that “there a lot of unhappy people” who oppose the plan. But she praised the health department for the proposal, saying that New Yorkers would adjust to the smaller sizes. “Over time, it does become the new norm,” she said.
Editor’s Note: First, he comes to Harlem telling parents to create a “stop and frisk” program in their homes. Now, he wants everyone in NYC to stop eating and drinking food that only a man like him that can afford healthcare can eat and stay healthy. Why doesn’t he just move in to my apartment and I’ll ask what should I do each day in my personal life?