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Mind and Body

NY anti-obesity ads pair soda, leg amputations

A diabetic man with a penchant for sugary drinks who lost his legs to amputation is the latest posterboy in the city's hard-hitting anti-obesity campaign.

"These are hard-hitting images because we really felt we need to drive home a point that large portions are not completely benign."

- Thomas Farley, New York CIty health commissioner

The disturbing image of an amputee sitting near cups of soda has been plastered in city subways, part of a series of ads aimed at shocking people out of dietary habits that can lead to obesity, said Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner.

"These are hard-hitting images because we really felt we need to drive home a point that large portions are not completely benign," he said.

The advertising campaign has previously used such arresting images as consumers gulping from a frosty glass filled not with a beverage but with globs of fat.

The newest ad says that as portion sizes have grown over time, so too has the incidence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which it says "can lead to amputations."

The tagline reads, "Cut Your Portions, Cut Your Risk."

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, criticized the campaign for creating an "inaccurate picture" of the impact of soft drinks.

"Portion control is indeed an important piece of the solution to obesity," he said in a statement.

"Instead of utilizing scare tactics, the beverage industry is offering real solutions like smaller portioned containers and new calorie labels that show the number of calories in the full container, right up front, to help people chose products and sizes that are right for them and their families," he said.

Drink sizes at a fast food chain have quadrupled in the last five decades, while the size of a portion of French fries has doubled in that time, the department said.

Nearly 57 percent of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, according to the department, and about 10 percent of have been told they have Type 2 diabetes.

There was some evidence that an earlier campaign had an impact: The percentage of adults drinking at least one sugary drink a day declined from about 36 percent in 2007, before the ads appeared, to about 30 percent in 2010, the department said, citing surveys.

Marion Nestle, a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, said portion sizes were an important factor in determining how much people eat, or overeat.

New York City has forced certain chain restaurants to prominently display calorie counts for each item on their menus to make people more aware of how much they are consuming.