Exploring Human Potential

New York City Takes on the American Diet

Posted on | May 9, 2009 | 1 Comment

New York City is 8 million strong, the epicenter of global finance and "type A" personalities. It is also the home of 1 million obese Americans and an additional 2 million who are clinically overweight.1 Eighteen percent of those who are obese and 10% of those who are overweight suffer from diabetes.1,2 The cost of hospitalizations for diabetes in the city approach a half a billion dollars a year, and deaths from heart attack touch nearly 25,000 families per year.1,3

It is not surprising then that New York City’s leaders have become downright militant when it comes to the classic American diet. In 2006, they banned trans fats from city food establishments. By October 2007, 96% of restaurants were in compliance. In January 2008, any restaurant that was part of a chain of 15 or more outlets nationally that served standard portions had to post calories on all menu boards, menus, and display tags. In addition, any restaurant that had chosen to make calorie information public had to place this information directly on their menus.4

Now the city is taking aim at sugared beverages. Why? Because many experts believe that sugared beverages "may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic."4 Per capita intake of calories from these drinks has increased nearly 30% in the past decade.5 The average American child’s diet now includes 10 to 15% of its calories in liquid sugar drinks.6 One of the drivers of consumption has been advertising, primarily directed at children. This advertising has been instrumental in moving soft drinks ahead of milk consumption in kids by the mid-1990’s.4,5

New York City’s leaders believe reverse advertising may play some role in reaching a solution to this problem. Yet they are after a quicker fix that would use the same approach that worked so well for cigarettes: raise the price of sugared beverages by applying taxes by the ounce. Studies show a penny per ounce excise tax would immediately reduce consumption by 10%.4 In 2008, after Coca-Cola raised its product prices by 12%, sales dropped nearly 15%.7

Would New Yorkers support such a "soda tax"? Fifty-two percent say "yes" regardless of how the tax revenue is used. But 72% say they would support a tax increase only if the funds were used to fight childhood obesity.4

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


1. Mello MM. New York City’s War On Fat. NEJM. 360:19, 2015-2020. 7 May 2009.

2. NYC Dept. of Mental Health and Hygiene. Epiquery: Community Health Survey. 2006.

3. NYC Dept. of Mental Health and Hygiene. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program. 2008.

4. Brownell KD, Frieden TR. Ounces of Prevention: The Public Policy Case For Taxes on Sugared Beverages. NEJM 360; 18, 1805-1808. 30 April 2009.

5. Vartanian LR et al. Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 2007; 97: 667-675.

6. Ludwig DS et al. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a perspective observational analysis. Lancet 2001; 357: 505-508.

7. Elasticity: big price increases cause Coke volume to plummet. Beverage Digest: 3,4. 21 Nov. 2008. 


One Response to “New York City Takes on the American Diet”

  1. Why poor people in wealthy countries are at greatest obesity risk : sex, genes & rock
    July 18th, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

    […] Taxing products like these might be a helpful first step. In fact some American states – such Maryland and Virginia – have already enacted substantial taxes of high-sugar drinks, causing consumption to plummet. […]

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