Opinion: Selling Sugar Water To Blacks and Latinos

David R. Jones is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (via CSS)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to restrict the sale of sugary drinks to a maximum of 16 fluid ounces brought on a chorus of criticism, as well as an advertising campaign deriding the proposed measure — which has run ads in The Amsterdam News, among other publications.

Still, The Amsterdam News recently ran a column supporting the large soda ban in its print edition, and pointing out that beverage companies have targeted low-income black and Latino populations with their unhealthy products.

David R. Jones, CEO of the Community Service Society of New York and author of the op-ed, which also ran on the CSS website, criticizes the anti-ban campaign, with its “Million Big Gulp March,” as cynical for attempting “to equate their ‘liberty’ to consume supersized sugary drinks with the struggle for civil rights in America.”

Sugary drinks – along with cigarettes and malt liquor – are disproportionately marketed to the city’s poor neighborhoods, mostly communities of color.  These drinks are a major cause of overweight and obesity.  And the obesity epidemic strikes hardest in communities already suffering from health and economic disparities, particularly our black, Latino and low-income communities where the rate of overweight and obesity reaches 70 percent in some neighborhoods.

The result of this marketing is a large-scale and lopsided tragedy, Jones argues.

Residents of primarily black and Latino neighborhoods – East and Central Harlem, North and Central Brooklyn, and the South Bronx – are more likely to drink sugary drinks, and to drink four or more sugary drinks daily, than are white residents of the Upper West Side and Flatbush.  The results are catastrophic.  The toll of obesity and resulting diabetes is striking New Yorkers unequally.  Residents of Bedford Stuyvesant or East New York are four times more likely than a resident of the Upper East Side to die of diabetes.  Black New Yorkers are almost three times more likely, and Latinos twice as likely, as whites to die from diabetes.

Obesity is a leading cause of preventable death, second only to tobacco.  It kills 5,800 New York City residents a year. Being overweight or obese is now the norm in our city: 58 percent of adults – or a total of 3,437,000 people – are overweight or obese.

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