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'Dr. Bloomberg' derided for proposal to limit size of sugary drinks

John Makely / msnbc.com

Judy Laurini, left, and Gem Sumner, right, laugh about their 24-ounce sweet teas that they bought from McDonald's on Sixth Avenue.

NEW YORK -- Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to limit the size of New Yorkers' sugary drinks, but the initiative is not going down very well with people in the city, including visitors interviewed on Thursday.

The ban on the sale of any cup or bottle of a drink larger than 16 fluid ounces – a little bit bigger than the size of a soda can – would include a range of sweetened drinks sold at restaurants and food carts, according to the mayor’s office.  The New York Times, which reported on the initiative, said the proposal could go into effect as early as next March.

The mayor noted that 58 percent of adults in the city (and nearly 40 percent of public school students in grades K-8) are overweight or obese. Obesity costs $4 billion a year in health care costs and kills thousands of New Yorkers, his office said.

But that rationale didn’t fly with many out for lunch or a stroll in the city’s midtown district.

“I don’t need the government on my meal plate or in my beverage,” said Travis Humphrey, a 30-year-old who works in tobacco prevention from Norman, Okla.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has touched off a nationwide controversy with his efforts to combat obesity. He joins Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss the proposal.

He said he was “very reluctant” to have such regulations imposed on businesses and their products though he welcomed the effort to work on serious health issues. “This is something that I am not exactly sure if government regulation … is going to be the solution.”

A pair of friends in town drinking sweet teas in what appeared to be 24-ounce size cups also denounced the mayor’s effort.

“I wish the government would get out of it and stay out of our lives and allow us to make the choices,” said Judy Laurini, 68, of Rochester, N.Y., who advocated that he spend money on educating people about the health problem.

“I’m an adult, I can drink it if I need it,” chimed in her friend, Gem Sumner, 68, of  Seattle, Wash. “But I would not let my children,” she added, laughing.

A man who didn’t want to identify himself derided the effort and the mayor’s earlier anti-smoking law, calling him, “Dr. Bloomberg,” and saying it felt like a “police state.”

“I think he’s a little bit out of line. I don’t think he’s got the right to sort of dictate what people can and cannot drink,” Carolyn Summers, a 46-year-old New Yorker who works in finance said as she held a large cup of unsweetened tea. “I can see that concern about obesity but I think that people need to be responsible for themselves.”

The mayor’s office said the ban would build on his previous health initiatives, such as banning smoking in public places and having calorie content posted at chain restaurants. It said those had improved life expectancy by nearly three years in the city famous for its pizza slices and hot dogs.

John Makely / msnbc.com

Bonita Troia, 35, a paramedic and her son Carlos Lopez, 17.

“We have an obligation to warn you when things aren't good for your health,” he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “So here the idea is, if you have to take it in a smaller glass, you’ve got to make a conscious decision to have another cup of it. And, we think a lot of people won't and therefore that will reduce one of, and it’s only one of, the contributors to the obesity epidemic that’s going on in this country.”

Bonita Troia, a 35-year-old paramedic from Kingsville, Texas, said she agreed with the mayor, especially since in her work she sees 500-pound adults and children who weigh 200 or 300 pounds.

“When we grew up in the ‘80s the portions were smaller and people weren’t that big,” she said as she ate lunch with her teenage son. “The portion sizes have been getting bigger so people got bigger.”

“People just don’t discipline themselves,” she added.  And, “us as taxpayers are paying for what people are putting on their plates.”