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Mayor Bloomberg Discusses City's Efforts To Combat Obesity And Sugary Beverage Regulation

March 11, 2013

The following is the text of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's remarks as delivered today at City Hall:

"Well if everybody came here to find out what I said on David Letterman, I suggest you watch tonight. I cannot help you on that, but everybody watches David Letterman so you'll get a chance. If there's any other subject, was there something else we were supposed to be here for?

"Well good afternoon, everyone. On a more serious note, over the past ten years, as you know, we have adopted many groundbreaking and controversial public health policies - from banning smoking in workplaces, to requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts, to banning trans fats, to posting letter grades in restaurants, to prohibiting smoking in parks and on beaches. And together, those and many other policies have helped New Yorkers live longer, healthier lives.

"Life expectancy in our city is now three years longer than it was in 2001 - and more than two years longer than the national average. But as far we've come, there is one public health crisis that has grown worse and worse over the years, and that is obesity.

"Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes, heart disease, and other deadly killers. We've tackled it by promoting exercise and healthy eating - and by supporting green markets and encouraging bodegas to carry fresh fruits and vegetables.

"But the fact is, as we all know, that is not enough. If we are serious about fighting obesity, we have to be honest about what causes it - and we have to have the courage to tackle it head-on. 70,000 people will die of obesity in America this year, 5,000 people in New York City will die of obesity.

"Now, the best science tells us that sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity. Some people say: Just talk about the problem, raise awareness, and hope that results in change. But it's not enough to talk and it's not enough to hope.

"We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all of the rest of the people that live on God's planet. And so while other people will wring their hands over the problem of sugary drinks, in New York City, we're doing something about it.

"The Board of Health's limit on the serving size of sugary drinks does not limit anyone's consumption; it just requires them to think about whether they really want more than 16 ounces.

"Remember, for many years, the standard soda size was 6 ounces - not 16, it was 6. Then it was 12 ounces - and people thought that was huge. Then it became 16, then 20 ounces.

"We believe it's reasonable to draw a line - and it's responsible to draw a line right now. With so many people contracting diabetes and heart disease, with so many children who are overweight and obese, with so many poor neighborhoods suffering the worst of this epidemic, we believe it is reasonable and responsible to draw a line - and that is what the Board of Health has done. As a matter of fact, it would be irresponsible not to try to do everything we can to save lives.

"Throughout its history, the New York City Board of Health has taken bold action to confront major public health problems. It banned lead paint, it required fluoride to be included in drinking water, and it required calorie counts to be included on the menus of chain restaurants.

"In each of these cases, the Federal government later followed the Board of Health's example.  Our Board of Health has always been a pioneer, and we're very proud of it. It has always been ahead of the curve, and you would expect nothing less from this city.

"Banning trans fats and adopting restaurant grading are just two other recent examples of that. Limiting the size of sugary beverages is consistent with the Board of Health's tradition and its mission. And we believe that ultimately, the courts will find it consistent with the law.

"Being the first to do something is never easy. When we began this process, we knew we would face lawsuits. Anytime you adopt a groundbreaking policy, special interests will sue.  That's America.

"But we strongly believe that, in the end, the courts will recognize the Board of Health's authority to regulate the sale of beverages that have virtually no nutritional value, and which - consumed in large quantities - are leading to disease and death for thousands of people every year.

"There are many, many instances where a lower court decision has gone against us and then been reversed. If lower court rulings had always stood, Grand Central Terminal would have been knocked down forty years ago.

"We're confident that today's decision will ultimately be reversed, too."

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