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Manel Kappagoda's picture

Earlier this week, New York Justice Milton Tingling handed down a judgment invalidating New York City’s portion control regulations on sugar-sweetened beverages. At ChangeLab Solutions, we were disappointed Judge Tingling blocked the restrictions, but we're hopeful New York City will successfully appeal the decision.

Many have applauded the ruling — we’ve seen lots of chatter about how unfair it is that New York tried to take away large sodas, sweetened coffee beverages, and other sugar-sweetened drinks, and how ridiculous it was that only certain stores were affected by the ban.

But the restrictions weren’t as arbitrary as they may have appeared. Here are some important points to note about the New York story:

● The portion control restriction was enacted by the city’s Board of Health. Many people have questioned why the restriction targeted only certain types of stores, and that’s because it only included stores where the Board of Health has oversight jurisdiction.

● The main question before the court was not about whether the ban was good or bad, it was about whether the Board of Health went beyond its authority when it put the ban in place. Justice Tingling decided the ban was beyond the board’s authority, and the city will appeal that decision.

There’s no question about it: When a community of any size puts a regulation or law in place around something like sugar-sweetened beverages, it also has to make tough calls about what to include and leave out. One city could choose to exempt milk-based drinks, for example, or prohibit free refills. Another could restrict portion sizes. Each group of policymakers grappling with this has to look at the research for themselves and decide, based on the evidence, what the best options are for their community.

Measures like this are put in place with the goal of making everyone in a community healthier. They allow us to help each other make better choices when it comes to unhealthy drinks. They help consumers stop thinking of oversized cups as the norm, and return to a more reasonably sized standard for sugary beverages.

According to the 2012 F as in Fat report put out by Trust for America’s Health, obesity rates are on course to continue to rise dramatically over the next 20 years. There are real dollars associated with that rise: an estimated increase of $48 billion to $66 billion per year in what we spend treating preventable obesity-related diseases.

Asking people to change their behavior won’t turn this tide, but policies that help make our communities healthier can dramatically reduce the very real costs — borne by all of us — of people suffering from chronic and preventable diseases.

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