Brooklyn Borough Prez Markowitz Weighs In On Bloomberg’s Soda Ban Proposal

NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s intent to ban 16+-ounce sodas in movie theaters, sports arenas, food carts, restaurants and delis met with plenty of opposition at a NYC Board of Health hearing in Long Island City Tuesday, which drew such a crowd that an overflow room was needed. Among those testifying that the proposed policy is sour grapes was Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, who offered a dollop of humor, alongside a much-needed common sense message.

The hotly contested issue—which would be the first such ban in the nation—has fostered public rallies, petitions and an advocacy group, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, which relayed its message at the Brooklyn Heights Regal/United Artists movie theater earlier this month with a sign on the marquee proclaiming: “Say No to the NYC Ban.”

In his address at the hearing, Markowtiz said, “Despite the city’s many positive health programs, I do not support the proposed ban, because consumers should have the ultimate say. The way to approach obesity is through education, advocacy, counseling, group support and efforts to raise self-esteem—not a punitive policy that forcibly limits consumer choices.”

He added, “I’m overweight not because I drink Big Gulp sodas, but because I eat too much pasta, pastrami sandwiches, pizza, bagels with cream cheese and lox, red velvet cake and cheesecake, don’t exercise as much as I should, and my genes are working against me. Someone who exercises regularly, eats right and has the right DNA can drink an entire two liter bottle of soda and not gain a pound.

“When it comes to a personal decision like what I put on my dinner table, the government can educate, inform, advocate and inspire, but should not be the final decision maker when it comes down to what is best for me. Ultimately, it should be the consumer that decides,” Markowitz said.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of Brooklyn’s Borough Prez, his testimony will likely ring hollow with the NYC Board of Health. All 11 members were personally appointed by Nanny Bloomberg himself, all but insuring rubber stamp approval when the legislation goes up for a vote in September. Next up: Prohibition!

Markowitz’s full statement:

Although I am here in disagreement on this particular policy, I fully support and commend this administration’s commitment to improving the health of all New Yorkers.

From expanding smoke-free zones to healthier school meals, banning trans fats to increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and reducing sodium in foods to labeling calories at fast food chains, this administration’s health initiatives have proven to be enormously successful.

But despite the city’s many positive health programs, I do not support the proposed ban on sugary drinks—or what I used to know as soda—larger than 16 ounces because consumers should have the ultimate say.

The way to approach the obesity epidemic is through education, advocacy, counseling, group support, and I believe most importantly, efforts to raise self-esteem, not a punitive policy that forcibly limits consumer choices.

When it comes to what we eat or drink, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Someone who exercises regularly, eats right, and has the right DNA can drink an entire two liter bottle of soda and not gain a pound. But if someone like me did that—I would be twice the size I am now.

Let me be clear: I’m overweight not because I drink Big Gulp sodas, but frankly because I eat too much pasta, pastrami sandwiches, pizza, bagels with cream cheese and lox, red velvet cake and cheesecake, don’t exercise as much as I should, and my genes are working against me. I was an overweight kid and I’m an overweight adult.

There’s an absolute truth that I want to share with you. Nobody wants to be obese, but for whatever reason, whether it’s genetics—which plays a big part in this—overeating, or a lack of exercise, for many of us, what we eat really sticks to us.

Don’t get me wrong. For those with this problem, I know large sodas, fast food, fatty foods, too much sodium, and super-sized portions, as well as “white” products—breads, pasta, rice, and baked goods—are a direct cause of the obesity epidemic. But the key is limiting them from our diets, not banning them.

So to really tackle the obesity epidemic head on, I urge the Department of Health to launch a citywide campaign to promote group exercise in the neighborhoods with particularly high rates of obesity.

And let’s get the private sector involved. If the city is really serious about knocking pounds off the scale, we should create an “exercise stamp” program like “food stamps” that subsidizes the cost of gym membership, spin studios, or group exercise classes for the city’s youth and low-income families. After all, you’re more likely to get in shape and stay that way when you’re working out with others who are facing the same challenges.

With kids glued to their computer screens, iPhones, iPads, or other electronic devices all day, only their fingers are getting a workout and not their bodies. So getting kids to be active and in shape is more important than ever. Unfortunately, right now roughly 20 percent of high school students in New York City have no physical education classes in an average week and far too many don’t even have space to exercise.

That is unacceptable. When I was a kid, we had gym class every day. So let’s not combat obesity by banning large sodas; let’s do it with a policy that requires students to exercise every day in middle school and high school.

And in neighborhoods struggling with obesity, we should be setting up physical fitness programs and outdoor group exercise clinics led by physical trainers. In addition, we should be ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to fresh fruits and vegetables by providing incentives to developers to rent to full-service supermarkets rather than another bank or drug chain, and open up our schools so that they can educate not only children, but parents on how to cook healthier and smarter meals with an emphasis on smaller portions.

As one of the most diverse places in the world, we should be sharing the best practices from our many ethnic groups to educate residents on how to prepare tasty, exciting, and healthy dishes. For instance, Asian American cuisine is delicious and also emphasizes more vegetables, smaller portions of meat, and less starch.

And with the same gusto that the city has poured into its anti-smoking ads, let’s send a clear message that obesity leads to heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, other deadly health risks—and lowers the quality of life—but with the caveat that the goal is not to idolize being razor-thin. It’s about being fit and increasing self-esteem, because beauty comes in every size and shape. How sweet it is!

So when it comes to a personal decision like what I put on my dinner table, the government can educate, inform, advocate, and inspire, but should not be the final decision maker when it comes down to what is best for me. Ultimately, it should be the consumer that decides.

It’s as simple as this: the better you look, the better you feel. And the better you feel, the better you want to look and the more you’ll be conscious of what you eat and drink. I said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody willingly wants to be obese.

Photo via Brooklyn Borough President’s Facebook Page

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  • Ronak

    Your opening sentence is misleading. He’s not banning 16 ounce sodas, he’s banning anything above 16 ounces.

  • Scottilla

    While I think that Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sodas will have other consequences, like making large diet sodas and iced coffee and tea unavailable, what bothers me is how the soda companies are buying the electorate. It’s up to us to decide how we want our city run, not Coca Cola, Pepsico, the restaurant chains and the movie chains. If they can buy this political process, it scares me what other elections they’re buying.

  • Peter

    And let’s be clear.. you could buy 2 cups of soda. Or 20. You can still drink as much as you want.

  • Eddyenergizer

    The movie theaters will make even more profit if this ban goes into effect. Instead of a couple being able to share a 32 oz. drink the’ll be forced to buy two 16 oz drinks which cost more than the one 32 oz size…. once again the consumer gets screwed.

  • Reggie

    Ronak, not true. The proposed rule would limit the sale of a sweetened drink to a cup or bottle 16 fluid ounces in size. “The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery stores or convenience stores,” to quote the New York Times.

  • Big Gulp

    Those who see this as a freedom of choice issue are on the wrong side of the issue. What this is all about, and where Bloomberg is spot on, is the massive cost we incur as a society as a consequence of the collective poor eating choices of an increasingly fat, and stunningly unhealthy, segment of the population. Type II diabetes and heart disease are reaching epidemic proportions in the ghetto and elsewhere. Who bears the costs of these poor “choices” actively made by these irresponsible folks? You and I, the taxpayers whose taxes are increasingly wasted on treating the staggering costs of this epidemic. Under these circumstances, freedom of choice has to be trumped by the poor choices made by these peoples. Thoughts? Serious response only.

  • Matthew Parker

    @Big Gulp. In total agreement. Education, counseling, etc, were not effective in ridding smoking from restaurants and bars. There’s nothing limiting here other than in order to grossly overconsume, you’ll need get get one’s fat derrier out of the movie theater seat and waddle down the isle with another 16oz cup.

  • Reggie

    Here is a serious response:

    Big Gulp presents an equation where excessive free-choice consumption of sweeteners results in medical costs borne in part by taxpayers, and suggests the mayor is “spot on” by limiting consumption.

    Another solution would be a limit public expenditure for self-inflicted health problems. It’s a Darwinistic alternative.

  • Bloomy


    It is easier to tackle the cause (sodas) than the after effects (diabetes). Sodas have literally no redeeming qualities. Why people are so quick to defend them dumbfounds me.

    NY already limits the magazine capacity on rifles to “protect the public”, limiting soda size is just an extension of the same philosophy.

  • David on Middagh

    I don’t understand why someone would want to drink even 16 oz. of soda in a theater. Hydrate beforehand, visit bathroom before settling in, then buy just enough liquid to wash down your popcorn and chocolate-covered raisin candies.

  • ME

    The government shouldn’t regulate what should be considered personal responsibility. That fact is that eating too many calories equals obesity, not just too much sugar. During the initial proposal for the ban, one council member mentioned buttery popcorn. Do you really want the government to regulate your calorie intake, because that’s where it’s heading.

  • Ytsaeb

    The BP is right on this one. A few facts below.

    (a) Obesity is a major problem. We all agree.
    (b) Soda may increase obesity.
    (c) Studies show that the majority of obese people do not drink sugary sodas and of those that do, the majority of them do it in their homes (ie. out of the reach of this regulation).
    (d) As the BP pointed out the causes of obesity are many and varied.
    (e) This limitation will not affect all retail establishments at which a consumer could purchase a large beverage; for example a consumer could buy a 20 ounce soda at a convenience store but not at the coffee shop next door under this regulation.
    (f) Thus this limitation will have a negligible effect on obesity and obese New Yorkers.
    (g) There is an argument that this may lead to greater sugary soda consumption since a consumer may opt to purchase two 16 ounce sodas instead of the 20 ounce or 24 ounce soda that they currently purchase from a restaurant.
    (h) By picking winners (convenience store) and losers (coffee shop) among NY retail establishments, this is a regulation that potentially is damaging to small businesses at a time when they can’t afford it.
    (i) Even if soda does not have any beneficial health impact, it remains legal and whether a local government should be permitted to limit its consumption is questionable at best (can it limit donuts? pizza? cupcakes?)
    (j) This regulation will also limit sizes of certain juices, iced coffees, etc.

  • ME

    @ Matthew Parker – The ingredients in cigarettes are considered addictive and cancerous. Even in moderation they pose health risks. Smoking also effects others, not just the smoker, such as in second hand smoke. Not sure that comparing drinking soda and smoking cigarettes is a fair comparison. If so, the Surgeon General should chime in and put labels on soda cans.

  • Wiley E.

    I am surprised that Marty would oppose the Bloomberg.

  • sue


  • She’s Crafty

    I’m not against this ban. I don’t personally drink soda but if people want to, fine, but why on earth would you need 32 ounces of it? That’s just gross.

  • Winstion Smith

    The government thought it necessary to ban marijuana, cocaine and heroin “for our own good” why not ban high fructose corn syrup as well? Oh, I almost forgot, it isn’t about that.

  • LibertyBelle

    Big brother continues to take control of our lives. This ban is being proposed by the same mayor who changed term limit rules to suit his own personal & professional needs. He is quick to impose new rules for everyone else, but he lives by his own rules.

    I don’t drink soda, but I don’t like the government telling me wha I can eat/drink or how much. A better appraoch would be to standardize drinks i.e. 8 oz = small, 16 oz = medium and 32 oz = large etc. Let the consumer make the choice. In addition, put the nutrition information on the cups so that people will have the ability to make an informed choice.

    Kudos to Marty for not towing the party line. Shame on the Dept. of Health officials who would not dare bite the hand that feeds them. That is the problem with our current system of government.

  • Bloomy


    What reason is there to standardize drink sizes? Isn’t that limiting your choices, something you would not want big brother doing? And how on earth are you going to fit all the nutritional info on the cap? It is already on the side of a bottle, what point is there moving it?

    @Winstion Smith

    A ban on HFCS would be great. Where do I sign up to make this happen?

  • AEB

    When people make consistently poor choices that endanger them and impact negatively on everyone else, then their ability to do so should be curtailed.

    What is being addressed here by the proposed ban is impulse buying–the reflexive choice to get more rather than less. The ability to buy sugary drinks remains..

  • Winstion Smith

    Let’s be honest here. It is not that anyone cares a hoot about anyone else’s health. It is the burden poor health puts on public moneys.

  • Quinn Raymond

    The jumbo soda band is a worthy experiment, not a comprehensive solution. They should give it a shot and see how it goes.

  • LibertyBelle


    Providing a variety of cup sizes is not limiting my choice, it gives the consumer a choice. As far as the nutritional information, I said to place the info on the cup not the cap. What I don’t enjoy is going to a movie theater and I order a small drink for my child, and I am handed a 24 oz cup and that is considered a small. If the government was really concerned about the health of the public, then cigarettes and tanning booths would be illegal. In addition, if the city was so interested in reducing obesity among children, gym class would be provided 5 days a week in public schools and not once a week.

  • Willowtowncop

    I suspect someone did a cost benefit analysis – is it cheaper if poor people live to be 50 and die of being fat or 75 and die of something else? Perhaps it would be cheaper still to let them buy assault rifles and then lay off all the cops and hospital workers.

  • Andrew Porter

    I’m sticking to my theory that when the alien overlords come, obese people will be hors d’oeuvres for their ravenous appetites for human flesh!