Lisa Young—a nationally-recognized nutritionist, registered dietician, and adjunct professor at the Steinhardt School—delivered a five-minute testimony during a July 26 public hearing at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in favor of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on oversized sugary drinks. Young, author of The Portion Teller Plan, has also been an active voice recently in the debate, appearing in numerous media outlets including The Huffington Post, ABC News 7, and the New York Post.
NYU Research Digest recently spoke to Young about, among other things, Americans’ waistlines and the KFC Mega Jug.
Why are you in favor of the ban?
Obesity is currently a major public health concern in New York City and is caused by an imbalance of energy intake [calories in] and energy expenditure [calories out]. Sugary, sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic.
What makes portion size so important?
Large portions contribute to obesity in several ways. For example, a small soda [16 ounces] at the fast food chain KFC contains 180 calories, while the Mega Jug [64 ounces] contains nearly 800 calories, and 50 teaspoons of sugar. This cup holds a half-gallon of soda; it contains more than one-third of the calories recommended for an entire day for certain segments of the U.S. population. And sugar-sweetened beverages, in particular, provide no nutritional value whatsoever. I think it is time to return to more reasonable sizes.
How does your research support the need to take action?
As a researcher tracking portion size trends, food portions have increased steadily over the years, and so have the waistlines of Americans. My research found that portion sizes are now two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s. When McDonald’s opened, for example, the only size soda available was 7 ounces. When Burger King first opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large. Burger King’s small is now 20 ounces and its large is 42 ounces.
Why should the public support the ban?
Mayor Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much should be considered a reasonable amount to drink at a time.