Bloomberg Soda Ban: How a Soda Prohibition Might Cut Rising Health Care Costs

Recent health care legislation in New York City has left many residents upset with the city government’s intrusion into their daily lives. Some are crying out against the supposed ‘Nanny State’.  Tensions are centered on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial soda ban, which was passed by the New York City Board of Health last month by an overwhelmingly definitive 8-0 vote.

Despite the vote’s seemingly absolute expression of the public’s support for the ban, its results should not be extrapolated as representative of all New Yorkers’ opinions, since the Board of Health is composed entirely of members selected by Bloomberg himself, not elected officials. 

The soda ban prevents the sale of sugary beverages — those that contain caloric sweeteners in quantities greater than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces — in cups larger than 16 ounces. Understandably, many find the government’s manipulation of what New Yorkers can and cannot purchase at local restaurants overly intrusive and alarming. However, I propose that an analysis of the new ban and its potential long-term benefits provides a strong basis for support of the new initiative. 

Before condemning Bloomberg’s ban, we must consider how rising obesity rates have affected health care costs in the United States in recent years. Reuters reports that obesity in America adds roughly $190 billion to annual national health care costs. Furthermore, the Journal of Health Economics estimates that an obese man will rack up an additional $1,152 per year in health care spending. 

Although these figures are nationwide statistics, which include states with disproportionately high obesity rates, New York’s obesity numbers are increasing at an alarmingly rapid pace. Currently, 58% of New York City adults and 40% of New York City public school children are overweight or obese. Intuitively, a decrease in the accessibility of large sugary drinks’ to residents would help lower calorie intake and thus reduce the number of overweight New Yorkers. However, given the ban’s intrusiveness, the general population has been unwilling to recognize its potential benefits, and instead has chosen to focus on supposed violations of a trivial freedom — the freedom to guzzle down as much soda as humanly possible.

But the ban is not as intrusive as detractors make it out to be. Under the law’s provisions, there is no limit to how many sugary 16-ounce beverages one person can purchase in a given time period. Therefore, the law does not limit the amount of soda a person can buy. It merely inconveniences those who wish to drink more than 16 ounces of soda at a time. A minor inconvenience seems like a small price to pay given the law’s potential to combat obesity and lower healthcare costs. 

New Yorkers who strongly oppose the ban need to consider the effects of and reactions to past health care initiatives taken by Mayor Bloomberg. His 2002 ban on smoking in public restaurants and bars was highly protested at first, but has since become quite popular, and even spread across the country. There aren’t currently any New Yorkers picketing in the streets for the right to chain-smoke at their local TGI Fridays. The initiative hasn’t been the start of a slippery slope down the road to a Big Brother state.

Therefore, before angry citizens cry out against what they perceive as the prohibition era of soft drinks, they need to at least let the ban be in effect for a while. If, after a few years or so, health care costs and obesity rates don’t drop, and if thirsty consumers still can’t stand the idea of drinking only 16 ounces of soda at a time, then maybe the mayor will need to reconsider his approach to public health.

Until then, New Yorkers need to calm down and give the soda ban’ a chance.