New York’s Soda War Opens New Conversation on Meaning of Public Health
Health advocates should applaud and defend New York City’s unflagging effort to protect the health of its residents by limiting the marketing of unhealthy products. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the city helped lead the way in protecting people from secondhand tobacco smoke. Now it’s trying to limit the consumption of sugar-laced beverages that are fueling an epidemic of diabetes and other chronic diseases. In New York and across the country, Big Soda is going all-out to defend its ability to peddle these unhealthy products and to beat back sensible efforts to restrict or tax their marketing.
Prevention Institute was one of 30 organizations to submit an amicus brief in support of the city as it appeals a court ruling that struck down the Board of Health’s new regulation on soda size. While the battle will now shift to the courts, the city’s action has sparked an important conversation. As we argued in a Nation of Change commentary published last week, a judge’s ruling striking down the New York Board of Health’s limits on soda size was deeply flawed. It failed to comprehend how threats to people’s health have changed in the 21st century—and how the mission and focus of public health authorities is shifting in response.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, local health authorities were granted broad powers to respond to threats from infectious diseases like tuberculosis and cholera. Today’s public health threats are chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that are influenced by the things people eat, drink and smoke—and the products companies are permitted to market.
Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s health board are once again pointing the way and stimulating a much-needed conversation. It’s up to all of us to expand that conversation. Write a letter to the editor. Compose and submit an op-ed. Reply to blogs that parrot Big Soda’s arguments. Make the case for wellness and prevention by making the case for sensible regulation.