A proposed ban on large sugary beverages in New York City would affect the menus of delis, fast-food franchises and even Yankee Stadium. From energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas the sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces would be prohibited. "Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, 'Oh, this is terrible,'" New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said in an interview. "New York City is not about wringing your hands; it's about doing something," he said. "I think that's what the public wants the mayor to do."
But there's a little complication. A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows that the sugar and fructose in the drinks are not necessarily the driving factor in the risk for hypertension. Is the ban a good idea?
In New York City more than half of adults are obese or overweight. Dr. Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner, blames sweetened drinks for up to half of the increase in city obesity rates over the last 30 years. About a third of New Yorkers drink one or more sugary drinks a day, according to the city. Dr. Farley said the city had seen higher obesity rates in neighborhoods where soda consumption was more common.
"The New York City health department's unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top," said a beverage industry spokesman, Stefan Friedman. "It's time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity. These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front."
The facts are not that simple. Researchers followed more than 200,000 men and women for up to 38 years and found that regularly consuming sweetened drinks, either containing sugars or artificially sweetened, was associated with a rise of about 13 percent in the risk of developing high blood pressure. Carbonated and cola drinks were most strongly linked to a risk for hypertension. The drinks with the highest sugar content were not necessarily the ones that caused hypertension the most. And to the contrary, other diets high in sugar and fructose from fruit do not show an increase in a tendency for high blood pressure.
Is it all in the bubbles?
In the future will drinking soda be looked at the way we look at cigarette smoking today? It might, if the New York City ban goes through.
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