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April 15, 2013 10:45 AM What Would a Soda Ban Have Accomplished?

By Aaron Carroll

I’ve discussed the potential soda ban in NYC repeatedly. One of my main concerns was that it would not have accomplished its main goal – reduced overall calorie consumption. But there’s new evidence that it may not have even accomplished a simple goal – reduced soda consumption. “Regulating the Way to Obesity: Unintended Consequences of Limiting Sugary Drink Sizes“:

Objectives: We examined whether a sugary drink limit would still be effective if larger-sized drinks were converted into bundles of smaller-sized drinks.
Methods: In a behavioral simulation, participants were offered varying food and drink menus. One menu offered 16 oz, 24 oz, or 32 oz drinks for sale. A second menu offered 16 oz drinks, a bundle of two 12 oz drinks, or a bundle of two 16 oz drinks. A third menu offered only 16 oz drinks for sale. The method involved repeated elicitation of choices, and the instructions did not mention a limit on drink size.

Yes, this is a simulation, but it’s worth considering. The researchers had two menus. On one, you could get any size soda you liked. On the second, the size topped out at 16 ounces, but you could buy more in “bundles” of either two 12 ounce drinks or two 16 ounce drinks. What did they find?

People bought more soda from the “bundled” menu than from the completely unregulated menu.

I have no idea if the soda ban would have worked. I was always skeptical. This study, however, raises the possibility that it might have backfired, though, if it had gone through as planned. There was a clear loophole for businesses to sell bundles of smaller sodas together. It turns out that may have led to more soda consumption under the ban, not less.

[Originally posted at The Incidental Economist]

Aaron Carroll ,MD, is an associate professor of Pediatrics and the associate director of Children’s Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine.
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