UCSD Researchers Analyze Effects of NYC Soda Ban

 

Study author Brent M. Wilson believes that the results of the study can be used to determine the value of this ban as other states consider similar laws, in addition to helping businesses maintain sales. 

“We approached the question from both a psychological perspective of how consumers would respond and an economics perspective of how businesses would respond,” Wilson said. “Similar bans have also been discussed in California and other areas besides New York City.” 

For the study, which was published April 10 in the scientific journal PLOS One, researchers presented three different menu choices to 100 participants. Each menu represented a different type of scenario. The first menu was “unregulated” and offered drinks in 16, 24 and 32-ounce sizes starting at $1.59. The second menu only offered the smaller 16-ounce size for the same price while the last menu offered the options of a single 16-ounce drink or bundles of two 12-ounce or 16-ounce drinks. The context was randomized so participants would buy according to their location, which included movie theaters, fast food restaurants and stadiums — all locations where the ban would take place.

Wilson and his fellow researchers found that participants purchased considerably more soda in bundles of 12-ounce and 16-ounce drinks than in individual sodas of various sizes. The finding illustrates that people will find ways to buy large amounts of soda if larger-sized sodas are banned.

“This study sheds light on possible unintended side effects of trying to manipulate people’s behavior by banning some of their available choices,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s team of researchers also concluded that based on the decisions of the participants, businesses could significantly increase revenue from selling bundled drinks, which outsold the unregulated menu with mixed sizes.

“Sugary drinks are a major source of business revenue, and businesses will adjust their menus in order to maximize profits,” said Wilson.

The researchers noted the limitations of the study, saying that it measured how much soda consumers purchased in various simulated settings and not how much they consumed. Barbara Jean Rolls, chair of nutritional studies at Pennsylvania State University, also emphasized the simulated situations and the lack of real-world component that it brought.

New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling ruled against the implementation of the ban, which was set to go into effect in March 2013.

“The New York City ban is currently blocked by a court, so it is difficult to say what effect this study will have on the ban,” Wilson said.

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