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NYC Board of Health passes big-soda crackdown rule

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 (AP)

New York City's health board has passed a rule banning super-sized, sugary drinks at restaurants, concession stands and other eateries.

The regulation passed Thursday puts a 16-ounce size limit on cups and bottles of non-diet soda, sweetened teas and other calorie-packed beverages.

The ban will apply in fast-food joints, movie houses and Broadway theaters, workplace cafeterias and most other places selling prepared food.

It doesn't cover supermarkets or most convenience stores.

City health officials say the ban is necessary to combat a deadly obesity epidemic.

The restaurant and beverage industries have assailed the plan as misguided. They say the city's health experts are exaggerating the role sugary beverages have played in making Americans fat.

Some New Yorkers have also ridiculed the rule as a gross government intrusion.

Championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the unprecedented regulation would follow other ambitious health moves on his watch. Some have proven to be national pacesetters, such as making chain restaurants post calorie counts; McDonald's announced Wednesday that it would start displaying the information nationwide next week, before a federal requirement that could force all major chains to do so next year. New York City also has barred artificial trans fats from restaurant food and taken aggressive steps to discourage smoking. Starting this month, dozens of city hospitals are asking mothers of newborns to listen to talks about why they should breast-feed instead of using formula.

Bloomberg and other advocates for the soda rule -- who include a roster of doctors and such food figures as chef Jamie Oliver -- see it as another pioneering step for public health.

Beyond the numbers, some doctors and nutrition experts say the rule starts a conversation that could change attitudes toward overeating. While there are many factors in obesity, "ultimately it does come down to culture, and it comes down to taking some first steps," said Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, a Mount Sinai School of Medicine professor who has studied the effect of government regulation on the obesity epidemic.

Soda makers and sellers say the rule unfairly singles out soft drinks as culprits for the nation's fat problem, represents an overweening government effort to regulate behavior and is so patchy as to be pointless. Because of the web of who regulates what, it would affect a belly-buster regular soda sold at a sports arena but not a 7-Eleven Big Gulp, for instance.

An average New Yorker goes to the movies about four times per year and buys concessions only twice, said Sun Dee Larson, a spokeswoman for the AMC Theatres chain.

"We firmly believe the choices made during the other 363 days have a much greater impact on public health," she said in a statement.

A soft-drink industry sponsored group called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices -- which says it has gathered more than 250,000 signatures on petitions opposing the soda rule -- is considering a lawsuit and exploring legislative options for challenging it, spokesman Eliot Hoff said.

The rule doesn't apply to lower-calorie drinks, such as water or diet soda, or to alcoholic beverages or drinks that are more than half milk or 70 percent juice.

Enforcement would be conducted by an existing corps of city restaurant inspectors. A violation would lead to a $200 fine.