The best-laid schemes of mice and mayors! A new study suggests that Michael Bloomberg’s crusade against sugary beverages, if ever enacted, could have a paradoxical effect.
Bloomberg’s law, which would have prevented New Yorkers from buying more than 16 ounces of soda at a clip, became Bloomberg’s folly the day before it was scheduled to go into effect.
A State Supreme Court judge stepped in and enjoined the city from enforcing the regulation. The mayor, however, pledged to continue his fight to get the ban passed.
Enter the study, titled “Regulating the Way to Obesity: Unintended Consequences of Limiting Sugary Drink Sizes.” The research, published on Wednesday in the open access journal “PLoS One,” was conducted by members of the psychology department at UC San Diego. A press release notes:
The researchers tested the effects of limiting sugary drink sizes on people’s soda consumption by offering them three kinds of menus. One menu offered 16, 24 or 32 ounce sized individual drinks, a second gave them the choices of a 16 oz. drink, or bundles of two 12 ounce drinks or two 16 ounce drinks, and a third menu offered only individual 16 oz. drinks for sale. When participants made choices from these menus as they would in a fast food restaurant, people bought more soda from the menu with packs of 12 oz. or 16 oz. drinks than they did when offered individual sodas of different sizes. Based on the choices participants made, total business revenues were also higher when menus included packs of drinks rather than only small sized drinks.
The study’s abstract concludes:
Our research suggests that businesses have a strong incentive to offer bundles of soda when drink size is limited. Restricting larger-sized drinks may have the unintended consequence of increasing soda consumption rather than decreasing it.
One critic of the study, CBS News reports, noted that the experiment lacked a real-world component because it did not take place in an actual restaurant, and participants were simply told the setting they were in.
Another scientist countered that consumers predisposed to buying a regular-sized beverage but constrained from doing so will exhibit rebelliousness, “a determination to circumvent this policy, an attitude of ‘I’ll show them.’ And the people selling the soda are all too willing to comply.”
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