New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stirred up more controversy with a recent proposal banning sodas over 16 ounces. The reasoning behind the proposal is that soda allegedly contributes to obesity, a major problem in the US: 60% of all Americans adults and 25% of children between 6-11 are obese or overweight. Considering that sodas make up 10% of fast food sales, (and providing a super high margin of 90%), it’s certain that American Beverage Association and vendors will contest the ban. While the rate of obesity is undeniably a serious issue—by some estimates, it may add $190 billion in health costs in the US alone concern—many individuals and organizations have criticized Bloomberg’s proposal, questioning its effectiveness (juices and other high-calories drinks are not included in the ban) and claim that it impinges on individuals’ right to choose what they eat.
Whether or not the ban is enacted, companies will be under increased pressure to provide healthier options and appropriate nutritional information in the future. Proactive companies that educate consumers and provide clear information will be better positioned to avoid negative press and legislation. For instance, the Walt Disney Company has already taken steps to self-regulate: together with First Lady Michelle Obama, they announced that any ads for food not meeting federal nutrition standards would be banned from children’s programing starting in 2015. The company also introduced “Mickey Check,” which identifies Disney-licensed foods and foods sold in their parks that meet the nutritional standards. By helping parents make good decisions about their children’s food, Disney is wisely positioning itself as a healthy, trustworthy brand. Other brands should take note and identify similar ways they can anticipate shifting consumer, and governmental, expectations.