Aims to curb obesity, make the healthier choice the easier choice
BOSTON -- Citing a link between the consumption of sugary beverages and rising obesity rates and healthcare costs, Mayor Thomas M. Menino today issued an executive order requiring city departments to take steps in the next six months to phase out the sale, advertising, and promotion of sugary beverages on city-owned property.
``Now is the time to expand our efforts that began in our public schools and set an example for the city as a whole,’’ Mayor Menino said, referring to the 2004 ban on soda and junk food in vending machines in Boston Public Schools. ``I want to create a civic environment that makes the healthier choice the easier choice in people’s lives, whether it’s schools, worksites, or other places in the community.’’
Mayor Menino announced the executive order at a City Hall press conference where he was joined by Boston Public Health Commission officials and leading health and nutrition experts, including Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and Bill Walczak, president of Carney Hospital in Dorchester.
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages account for up to 10 percent of total calories consumed in the US diet, and are known to be major contributors to obesity.
According to the Boston Public Health Commission, about 63 percent of black adults, 51 percent of Latino adults, and 49 percent of while adult residents in Boston are considered overweight or obese. Nearly 30 percent of preventable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, arthritis, heart attacks and strokes, are linked to obesity in adults.
Mayor Menino’s executive order sets science-based standards for what’s considered a healthy beverage and what can be sold or served on city property. The policy applies to cafeterias, vending machines, concession stands, and beverages served at meetings, city-run programs, and events where food is purchased with city dollars.
City buildings and departments have a six-month grace period before they’ll be required to phase out the sale of so-called “red” beverages, or those loaded with sugar, such as non-diet sodas, pre-sweetened ice teas, refrigerated coffee drinks, energy drinks, juice drinks with added sugar and sports drinks. The order allows for the sale of “yellow” beverages such as diet sodas, diet iced teas, 100 percent juices, low-calorie sports drinks, low-sugar sweetened beverages, sweetened soymilk and flavored, sweetened milk. “Green’’ beverages, such as bottled water, flavored and unflavored seltzer water, low-fat milk, and unsweetened soymilk can continue to be sold. The promotion of “red” beverages on city property through sponsorship agreements with city departments, including banners and advertising panels on vending machines, will be prohibited.
The Boston Public Health Commission has developed signage and a brochure to help city workers and visitors navigate the labyrinth of beverages to find the healthy choice. Posters featuring a traffic light symbol are being placed near vending machines and the healthiest beverage choices get a green light, the less healthy drinks get a yellow light, and those that are most loaded with sugar get a red light. The poster says “Stop. Rethink Your Drink. Go on Green.”
Public health employees will conduct educational workshops for city employees and also will be responsible for working with city departments to ensure that the executive order is fully implemented.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said, in the long term, the policy will decrease healthcare costs for the city and cut into lost productivity. “Economists estimate that medical costs for an obese patient are about 42 percent higher a year than for a patient with a healthy weight,” Dr. Ferrer said.
Other cities and states - including San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles County, and New York City -have taken steps to create nutritional standards that limit or prohibit the sale or distribution of unhealthy foods, including sugar-sweetened beverages.
Two years after the Boston Public Schools removed soda and unhealthy snacks from vending machines, BPS’ youth surveillance data showed that overall consumption of sugary drinks by BPS high school students decreased significantly.
Since that time, Boston has taken additional steps such as expanding neighborhood walking groups, subsidizing gym memberships, supporting backyard gardens, and investing city dollars in the Bounty Bucks program so that more families can afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at Farmers’ Markets. This summer, Boston will launch New England’s first bike share program, which will put 600 bikes on the streets for residents and visitors to use in the city.
Along the way, the city has found no shortage of supportive partners. Yesterday, Bill Walczak of Carney Hospital in the Steward Health Care System said he’d implemented on Monday a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages sold or provided on hospital grounds. The ban has begun in cafeterias, retail, and patient service areas. Carney is the first hospital in Boston to implement such a policy.
“I applaud Mayor Menino and Bill Walczak for their leadership in creating healthier civic, workplace, school and healthcare environments by eliminating soda and other sugary drinks wherever possible,” said Dr. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health and a leading expert internationally on obesity. “There is abundant evidence that the huge increase in soda consumption in the past 40 years is the most important single factor behind America’s obesity epidemic. These steps will greatly assist in creating a new social norm, in which healthier beverages are the preferred choice.”