Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Too Big To… Drink?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York decided his citizens were getting too big, and banned the sale of sugary soft drinks over 16 ounces in size.  The ban, endorsed by the New York City Health Board, was to control portion sizes on sodas sold in delis, restaurants, cinemas, sportsgrounds and foodcarts on the street.  Aside from health concerns (obesity is as widespread in NYC as anywhere), the aim was to roll back decades of portion-size inflation. 

Thirty or forty years ago, the biggest soft drink sold through hamburger restaurants was 21 ounces.  That’s equivalent to the “small” option today.  The steady trend has been towards super-sizing beverage portions, and volume consumption per head has risen with cup sizes.  Needless to say, the mayor’s move caused widespread indignation about “interference with basic freedoms”.  The American Beverage Association spluttered that “people consume what they want”, no more and no less. 

But do they?  What people “want”, according to reliable research, varies according to what they are being offered.  The sizing of portions really does have a lot to do with how much we consume.  Economists have demonstrated that if there is a range of choices and one of them is designated the ‘default choice’, that’s the one most people go for.  If a 40-oz supersize soda is offered, a 20-oz option seems modest, even inadequate, by comparison, especially if price-per-volume is skewed to favor the bigger size.  Such issues alter our perception of how much is enough.  Size matters.

Only time will tell if cutting people back to 16-oz drinks will materially reduce the number of New York City’s overweight adults, currently almost 60%.

However, anyone determined to avoid the edicts of Mayor Bloomberg and his “nanny state” just has to head to a 7-Eleven convenience store.  The chain secured an exemption to the new size rule, and continues to offer its serve-yourself sodas in Gulps (20 oz), Big Gulps (30 oz), Super-Big Gulps (40 oz), and Double Gulps (50 oz, reduced from the original 64-ounce size because people found that difficult to carry).

There’s even an X-Treme Gulp size, which looks like it might take a fork-lift truck to get it off the ground.  Nothing daunted, freedom-loving New Yorkers made the X-Treme their beverage size of choice when marching in protest against the mayor’s new size rule.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: USA / North America Product – Consumer Products