New York anti-obesity ads pair soda, leg amputations

NEW YORK Mon Jan 9, 2012 7:45pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A diabetic man with a penchant for sugary drinks who lost his legs to amputation is the latest posterboy in the city health department's hard-hitting anti-obesity campaign.

The disturbing image of an amputee sitting near cups of soda was plastered in city subways on Monday, part of a series of ads aimed at shocking people out of dietary habits that can lead to obesity, said Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner.

"These are hard-hitting images because we really felt we need to drive home a point that large portions are not completely benign," Farley told Reuters.

The advertising campaign has previously used such arresting images as consumers gulping from a frosty glass filled not with a beverage but with globs of fat.

The newest ad tells subway passengers that as portion sizes have grown over time in the food and restaurant industries, so too has the incidence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which it says "can lead to amputations."

The tagline reads, "Cut Your Portions, Cut Your Risk."

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, criticized the campaign for creating an "inaccurate picture" of the impact of soft drinks.

"Portion control is indeed an important piece of the solution to obesity," he said in a statement.

"Instead of utilizing scare tactics, the beverage industry is offering real solutions like smaller portioned containers and new calorie labels that show the number of calories in the full container, right up front, to help people chose products and sizes that are right for them and their families," he said.

The Department of Health says the campaign is necessary to warn consumers that they may be consuming more than they realize. Drink sizes at a fast food chain have quadrupled in the last five decades, while the size of a portion of French fries has doubled in that time, the department said.

Nearly 57 percent of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, the department said, and about 10 percent of New Yorkers have been told they have Type 2 diabetes.

Earlier advertisements in the anti-obesity campaign include 2009 images of oozing fat being poured into soda containers in an attempt to illustrate the link between the excessive consumption of sugary drinks and obesity.

There was some evidence that the campaign has had an impact: The percentage of adults drinking at least one "sugary drink" a day declined from about 36 percent in 2007, before the ads appeared, to about 30 percent in 2010, the department said, citing department surveys.

Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, said that portion sizes were a very important factor in determining how much people eat, or overeat. People can be fooled by larger portion sizes into thinking they are eating less than actually are.

The city has forced certain chain restaurants to prominently display calorie counts for each item on their menus. Farley, the health commissioner, said it was likely that this requirement was making some restaurants reconsider the size of their portions rather than have to publicize "embarrassingly" high calorie counts for food items.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Paul Thomasch)

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