Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

We’ve all heard the startling statistics about obesity in America: over one third of American adults are obese (almost 36%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Obesity puts us at risk for all kinds of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. And it doesn’t afflict everyone equally: nearly 50% of blacks are obese, and lower income Americans in general are more likely to be obese than others.

In an effort to combat these problems, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a ban on sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces sold at the city’s restaurants, food carts and movie theaters. The plan for enforcement was to disperse food inspectors and to fine businesses found in violation $200 per infraction. The ban received a mixed reaction: some public health advocates saw it as a much needed first step to encourage people to eat healthier. But the ban’s most vocal opponents were a surprising collection of minority businessmen who do not always work with conservative business people.

More surprising is the fact that The NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, the New York Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and the Korean-American Grocers Association have all opposed the ban. They correctly note that the policy, if enacted, would hurt businesses in an already struggling economy, and a disproportionate number of those businesses would be minority owned. Why? Because such a ban would cut into the profits of food carts and other small delis while leaving expensive sit-down restaurants and large corporations like 7-Eleven unaffected.

Anyone familiar with food service knows that beverages offer large profit margins. This kind of regulation would dramatically cut into small business profits. These businesses are safe for the moment, however, because a New York State Supreme Court judge recently overturned that ban, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” The mayor has vowed to appeal.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.