By Rebecca Henely
Corona has been singled out as having the highest rate of childhood obesity in the city, but City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) joined with local business owners and a new coalition last Thursday to say Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban is the wrong way to fight it.
“It has the potential to create a hostile business-to-business relationship,” she said.
In an effort to fight obesity, Bloomberg has proposed to restrict any establishment that requires a city Department of Health grade from selling any sugary drink greater than 16 fluid ounces. The ban does not affect drinks that are diet, primarily fruit-based, alcoholic or dairy-based.
Ferreras invited the media to visit business owners of restaurants and bodegas in East Elmhurst and Corona within walking distance of her office, at 32-33A Junction Blvd., last week. The councilwoman’s district includes Corona, a neighborhood which the city said has the highest rate of child obesity in all five boroughs.
But the restaurant, café and bodega owners all said they believed the legislation would only divert the sale of 20-ounce bottles to bodegas and groceries instead of encouraging New Yorkers to buy smaller cans.
“I think it’s unfair that one type of business is being banned and another business can sell this,” Ferreras said.
Samantha Levine, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in response, “We hope the Council member and the businesses in her neighborhood will consider supporting our efforts to decrease the obesity rate in her district and help her constituents live longer, healthier lives.”
Abel Ahuatl, owner of Metro Star coffee shop on Junction Boulevard, said he would lose profits both from the bottles he sells and the smoothies and iced coffees he sells under the proposed ban.
“There’s so much income I’m going to lose,” he said.
A month-old new group, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, joined them. Eliot Hoff, spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, said the coalition was begun by the American Beverage Association and has allies in restaurant and theater associations, but more than 70,000 individuals and about 800 small businesses have also joined since the group was formed.
Hoff argued on behalf of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices that the way to fight obesity is through education and more options, not less. He argued that at restaurants many families buy 2-liter bottles of soda to split among themselves and take home later, and similarly share large soft drinks at movie theaters.
“It’s an onerous, arbitrary regulation that will not have its intended consequence,” he said.
Ferreras said efforts should be invested in improving Corona’s environment with open space and less crowding in the schools, which would create more space for children to play and help fight obesity. The councilwoman said the proposal would only create a divide in the neighborhood’s business network.
“The good intentions may be there, but we need to look at the full impact of this,” she said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.