By a hair, more Americans support than oppose limiting restaurant soft-drink servings to 16 ounces, according to a new telephone survey commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. The group, which is hosting a first-of-its-kind National Soda Summit today in Washington, says that the degree of support is surprising given how novel the idea is. By sheer coincidence, the poll was conducted from May 31 to June 3, as news of a New York City proposal to limit serving sizes of soda and other sugary drinks was making headlines.
“People are starting to figure out that if we want to make a dent in obesity rates, we need to drive down consumption of sugar-based drinks,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Not only are people drinking less soda, but there is more support for public policies that nudge people in the right direction, and that make the healthy choice the default choice.”
Fifty percent of those surveyed either strongly support or support limiting soft drink serving sizes to 16 ounces, while 48 percent either oppose or strongly oppose the idea. Support for the idea is particularly high in the Northeast, where 58 percent of those surveyed expressed support, and among African-Americans, 63 percent of whom expressed support for limits, though that sample size was small.
The National Soda Summit happening today and tomorrow is bringing together public health officials, consumer groups, and nutrition authorities, and is designed to stimulate progress on reducing soda consumption, organizers say. Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, and New York City health commissioner Thomas Farley are among the speakers. Other speakers include some of the most prominent experts on sugar-sweetened beverages, including Barry M. Popkin of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, David S. Ludwig of Children’s Hospital in Boston, and Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.
CSPI’s survey found strong support for two other ideas designed to steer people away from sugar-based drinks. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed support or strongly support the idea that grocery stores should promote or discount healthier beverages more often than sugary drinks, and 64 percent supported having grocery stores provide information in the soda aisle about the calorie and sugar content of the drinks, and about the health risks of drinking too many of them.
CSPI and other supporters of New York City’s proposal to limit restaurants’ soda serving sizes to 16 ounces say that public support for such measures will only grow as more Americans learn of soda’s unique contribution to overweight and obesity.
Soda and other sugar-based drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet, and are the only food or beverage shown to have a causal relationship with weight gain. And while public support for limits seems stronger than expected, it’s not the only factor public health officials have to consider.
“Many people around the country are concerned about the obesity epidemic but are unsure what to do,” Dr. Farley said. “In New York City we have an obligation to act to stem this crisis. This proposal is based not on a poll but on our belief that it will help reverse the obesity epidemic and thus save lives.”
“Bringing down serving sizes from 64- and 32-ounce buckets makes a lot of sense, and just one of a dozen things health officials should do to reduce consumption,” Jacobson said. “Sugary soda provides nothing of benefit to the diet and is a leading contributor to obesity, diabetes, and other debilitating and expensive-to-treat diseases. We should also tax it, place warning labels on it, run television campaigns against it, and do everything we can to get people to drink less. It’s time to restore soft drinks to what they once were: an occasional treat.”
CSPI’s telephone survey was conducted among 1008 adults by CARAVAN, an omnibus service from ORC International.