Super-sized debate on how much soft drink is too much

If you're someone who enjoys a 600ml soft-drink with your lunch, you probably don't consider the beverage "super-sized".

But that's what New York health authorities have ruled after passing a long-talked-about ban on non-diet soft drink servings.

The city's health board passed a rule overnight limiting sugared soft drink servings to 16 ounces, or 473ml.

That means the most common serving size found in Australia - 600ml - would be banned under the rule, which applies to fast-food shops, theatres, workplace cafes and most other places selling prepared food, but does not cover supermarkets or most convenience stores.

The 16-ounce limit is only a quarter of the more extreme bucket-like containers available in some US cinemas, sports arenas and takeaways. The regulation does allow patrons to buy as many of the smaller drinks as they want and to get refills.

The beverage industries and some New Yorkers have ridiculed the rule as an intrusion on personal choice and liberty.

But Australian public health nutritionist, Tim Gill, said there was no reason anyone should be consuming soft drinks at quantities larger than 500ml.

"Soft drink provides absolutely no nutrition and a significant number of calories," said Dr Gill, who is the principal research fellow at The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at Sydney University.

He said the most common serving size for soft drink in Australia was 600ml, far greater than the standard 180ml bottles of the 1970s.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating lists soft drink under "extra foods", which should be consumed "sometimes or in small amounts".

A large-size soft drink from McDonald's is about 600ml.

Dr Gill said 600ml serves were at least double what should be consumed reasonably.

"A glass is a couple of hundred millilitres. Why would you be having three glasses at one time? It's nonsense."

The most significant public health implication of soft drink over-consumption is obesity.

More than 17 million Australians are overweight or obese, according to information on the Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute website. If weight gain continues at current levels, 80 per cent of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese by 2020.

Excessive soft-drink consumption can also lead to long-term dental problems and poor bone health.

Dr Gill said the New York City restriction was a useful and important public-health strategy.

"I can't see any reason why there shouldn't be those sorts of restrictions."

The New York measure, which could face legal challenges from the soft drinks industry, takes effect in six months.

"Reasonable portion sizes won't prevent anyone from buying or drinking as much soda as they want, but it will help people keep from inadvertently taking in junk calories," New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The city's Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said studies showed Americans now consumed 200 to 300 more calories daily than 30 years ago.

He said men given 18 ounces (532ml) of beverage, compared with 12 ounces (355ml), drank 26 per cent more while women drank 10 per cent more, with no decrease in food consumption and no difference in reported fullness or thirst.

Recent efforts to tax soft drinks have foundered in at least 30 US states.

Last year, the US federal government rejected an attempt to bar purchases of sugared drinks with food stamps.

with AP, Bloomberg

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