Collaboration Lags on Soda Size Regulation

Timeline of Soda Ban
Soa H Andrian, Kerry M. Flynn, and Sonali Y. Salgado

The Cambridge Public Health Department and the Cambridge City Council have fallen out of step on a proposal to limit the amount of soda served in Cambridge restaurants. As members of the Council look to begin exploring the logistics of a soda limitation, the Public Health Department is still unsure whether such a regulation is prudent.

Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Cambridge City Council’s Community Health Committee, said she hopes to meet with the business community in the next month and assemble a task force on the soda limitation shortly thereafter. But according to Public Health Department spokeswoman Suzy Feinberg, the department will not submit its formal recommendations to the city until late spring­­—nearly a year after the City Council first requested a recommendation on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in June 2012. That request came soon after Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City proposed capping the size of sodas served in New York at a volume of 16 ounces.

“One of the key issues is whether this type of restriction will result in lower consumption of sugary beverages and reduction in overall caloric intake,” Feinberg wrote to The Crimson in an email. At a meeting with the Council’s Public Health Committee on Jan. 9, the department raised doubts that the proposal would diminish soda intake.

“Does limiting soda size make sense, if people can still buy large size beverages in retail establishments, such as supermarkets and corner stores?” asked Claude-Alix Jacob, Cambridge’s chief public health officer. He added that consumers could also order more servings of soda at restaurants.

When the Council discussed the soda regulation proposal on Jan. 28, Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 voiced concerns about infringing on personal liberties.

But fellow Councillor Craig A. Kelley said he would expect a soda regulation to pass if it were put before the City Council. And Decker said that the final decision does not rest exclusively with the Public Health Department. “This is not [Jacob’s] decision; this is the Council’s decision,” she said.

The Public Health Department and the City Council expressed similarly different opinions in 2006, when the Council asked for a recommendation on the topic of trans fat regulation in Cambridge restaurants.

The department recommended educating restaurateurs about the dangers of trans fat but would not endorse a full ban on trans fats, saying that a lasting relationship with the restaurant community outweighed the short-term benefit of banning trans fat use.

The following year, the City Council established a task force that ultimately did ban trans fat from Cambridge restaurants.

“When I brought the order in to ban trans fat, the Public Department was not sure,” said Decker. “Ultimately, the whole state decided that Cambridge was right.”

—Staff writer Sonali Y. Salgado can be reached at ssalgado@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @SonaliSalgado16.

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