A state appeals court panel had few sweet words Tuesday for a city health regulation that would fight diabetes and obesity by setting a size limit on sugary beverages sold in restaurants.
The four justices peppered a city lawyer with tough questions during a Manhattan court session aimed at determining whether health officials exceeded their authority in placing a 16-ounce limit on most sweetened beverages at city-licensed eateries.
The regulation would apply to thousands of fast food joints, fine restaurants and sports stadiums, but not to supermarkets or most convenience stores. It was struck down in March by a lower-court judge, who found that the rules had too many loopholes that would undermine the health benefits while arbitrarily applying to some businesses but not others. The city appealed.
During oral arguments in the case Tuesday, the judges repeatedly challenged city attorney Fay Ng to defend the rule's scientific and legal underpinnings.
Justice David Friedman said the city appeared to be asking for unprecedented authority to regulate all sorts of portion sizes, including "the number of doughnuts a person could eat, the number of scoops of ice cream" and number of servings of fried chicken.
Several times, Justice Dianne Renwick questioned whether the 16-ounce size limit was scientifically arbitrary, given that it is based on liquid volume rather than a measure of how much sugar is actually in a beverage. The limit, she noted, meant that some drinks with high amounts of sugar would be allowed, while others with less sweetener would be banned.