NEW YORK (AP) — Opponents of the city’s limit on the size of sugary drinks are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.
The NAACP’s New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation have joined beverage makers and sellers in trying to stop the rule from taking effect March 12. With a hearing set Wednesday, critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.
The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given obesity rates that are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The groups say in court papers they’re concerned about the discrepancy, but the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and “freedom of choice in low-income communities.”
The latest in a line of healthy-eating initiatives during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, the beverage rule bars restaurants and many other eateries from selling high-sugar drinks in cups or containers bigger than 16 ounces. Violations could bring $200 fines; the city doesn’t plan to start imposing those until June.
The city Board of Health OK’d the measure in September. Officials cited the city’s rising obesity rate — about 24 percent of adults, up from 18 percent in 2002 — and pointed to studies linking sugary drinks to weight gain. Care for obesity-related illnesses costs more than $4.7 billion a year citywide, with government programs paying about 60 percent of that, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
“It would be irresponsible for (the health board) not to act in the face of an epidemic of this proportion,” the city says in court papers. The National Association of Local Boards of Health and several public health scholars have backed the city’s position in filings of their own.
Opponents portray the regulation as government nagging that turns sugary drinks into a scapegoat when many factors are at play in the nation’s growing girth.
The American Beverage Association and other groups, including movie theater owners and Korean grocers, sued. They argue that the first-of-its-kind restriction should have gone before the elected City Council instead of being approved by the Bloomberg-appointed health board.