Melissa testified today before the NYC Board of Health regarding the proposed ban on large sugary drinks, explaining that this is a distraction from the real solutions to our obesity epidemic, such as the need for more youth recreation programs, school sports and physical education, increased funding and renovations for parks and open spaces, as well as increased access to healthy food programs in low-income communities.
Good morning, my name is Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. I represent District 8, which encompasses El Barrio/East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and part of Mott Haven in the Bronx. I appreciate the opportunity to speak before you today regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban, which would prohibit the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages over 16 ounces by most food establishments.
Like the Bloomberg administration, I am very troubled by the city’s staggering rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes—which are especially high in communities of color like the one I represent. In fact, I have been working hard to address these epidemics in my community for a number of years. Although I share the Mayor’s goal for a healthier New York, I remain deeply concerned about this proposed ban for a number of reasons.
This proposed ban would be arbitrary and ineffective. Unlike the trans fat ban which was applied across the board, thereby creating a level playing field, this ban creates an un-level playing field; while the ban will cover soft drinks and teas at any establishment that receives a letter grade from the city’s Health Department including restaurants, fast-food restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and food carts, it does not prevent consumers from going next door to where they are eating to purchase a large soda at a grocery store or bodega.
This is a major concern for many local East Harlem food establishments – most of which are sandwiched between grocery stores, delis, and bodegas. I recently participated in a walking tour of East Harlem to see how the soda ban might affect our local businesses. After speaking face-to-face with restaurant owners, I am convinced that this ban will have an adverse economic impact on our community’s small businesses and could result in job losses.
In addition to hurting our small businesses, it is important to note that this proposed ban is a distraction—a proposal that attracts a lot of media attention and generates a lot of public discussion, but does not address the root causes of the obesity epidemic. As I stated in a letter to the editor published in the New York Times, it is ironic that while the mayor is touting the health benefits of his proposed ban, his Executive Budget would have denied young people exercise opportunities by cutting after-school recreation programs, if not for restorations by the City Council; school sports and physical education are severely underfunded; schools are being built without gyms; and community leagues are not given the resources that they need.
In East Harlem, more than one in three adolescents exercise fewer than 20 minutes a day, three days a week, as recommended, and teenagers in my community are three times less likely to have a daily gym class compared with students in other neighborhoods. Where are the bold proposals from the Bloomberg administration to reduce these disparities? The City should ensure that our schools meet the New York State mandate of 120 minutes of physical education per week; this is one way that we can lay the foundation for healthier lifestyles at an early age.
The administration should be focusing its attention on issues that will have a greater impact on public health than a beverage ban that might hurt small businesses. The City should be expanding youth recreation programs, school sports and open space, as well as creating programs to subsidize healthy food access and rehabilitating parks, playgrounds and indoor recreational spaces that would encourage New Yorkers to exercise. We need to get to the root of the problem which goes much deeper than the size of a cup of soda.