The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
: Beverage Ban Beats Obesity?
Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012
The notion of freedom of choice is essentially American. We choose our elected officials with votes and in our economic system, we vote with our dollars. But what happens when our voice and our choice become limited? Two recent stories about issues impacting our restaurant industry made headlines. One infringes on freedom of choice by telling guests what they can and can’t buy. The other promotes choice by equipping diners to make informed decisions.
A beverage ban approved by the New York City Board of Health states that “non-alcoholic sugary drinks may not be offered or sold in cups or containers that can contain more than 16 fluid ounces” … unless it’s from a grocery or convenience store. Here’s why this arbitrary, misguided ban unfairly targets restaurants: according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the majority of consumers purchase their sugar-sweetened beverages from convenience and grocery stores!
The CDC data also indicates that sugar-sweetened beverages only account for between 5 to 8 percent of daily caloric intake. Added sugars consumed from sugar-sweetened beverages are down 39 percent with more low- and zero-calorie choices. And from 1999 to 2010, full-calorie soda sales declined 12.5 percent while obesity rates went up. Not only does this ban produce a false sense of accomplishment in the fight against obesity, it creates an uneven playing field for restaurants.
According to a recent poll conducted by the New York Times, 60 percent of New Yorkers believe that the ban is a “bad idea,” with a majority surveyed responding that the ban “infringes on people’s freedom of choice.”
It is my job to analyze how policy will affect the 16,000 eating and drinking places in the Georgia, and the over 380,000 people employed by our industry. I see this as the first step down a slippery slope. For example, what’s more American than apple pie? One slice has around 400 calories, more than the calories in a 32-ounce soda.
Should officials also place a ban on apple pie?
Now let’s take a look at the other restaurant story gracing the headlines: “McDonald’s posts calorie counts on menus.” This move, in anticipation of the new menu labeling requirements for restaurants with 20 or more units, puts nutritional information in the hands of guests. Our industry took a leadership role in shaping menu labeling legislation. Also, over a year ago the National Restaurant Association launched Kids LiveWell, a voluntary program with more than 100 participating restaurant brands committed to providing healthful children’s menu choices when dining out. These initiatives help educate the 130 million patrons served in restaurants each day on the nutritional content of food and beverages. They are our choices, for now, at least. You can choose to have your apple pie and eat it, too. Or you could opt for apple slices (15 calories) with your Happy Meal. With this enhanced information, let’s keep America and our freedom of choice healthy. Food and beverage bans are not the way forward.
Karen Bremer is executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association.