Food stamps are new front in NYC obesity-soda war

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His new title could be the King of New York City Bans. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to institute yet another proscription, requesting permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bar the city’s 1.7 million food stamp recipients from using the stamps to purchase sugary drinks. Mr. Bloomberg believes the demonstration project would aid in curbing the city’s obesity epidemic, which New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard F. Daines contend in a New York Times op-ed is due to rising soda consumption over the past three decades.

“This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment,” the mayor said in announcing the proposed ban, which would apply to drinks with more than 10 calories per eight ounces, except for milk products, milk substitutes or fruit juices without added sugar.

This isn’t the first time the Agriculture Department received a request to restrict the purchasing power of food-stamp recipients. In 2004, Minnesota attempted to bar the purchase of “junk food” with food stamps, but the department denied the request, ruling the plan was based on questionable merits and would “perpetuate the myth” that food-stamp users are not capable of making wise shopping decisions.

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan agrees with the Agriculture Department wholeheartedly. “The proposed ban is not only patronizing, but it would needlessly ostracize and stigmatize food stamp recipients.”

The ban is just one more way the government is trying to dictate how people should live their lives, says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “That’s the worst thing about it — the presumption that the government thinks it knows better about what poor people should and shouldn’t eat.”

“Yet again, the Health Department thinks it can use simple solutions, like banning food stamp users from purchasing sugary drinks, to solve the complex problem of obesity,” says Dr. Whelan.

“Moreover, those sweetened beverages are among the cheaper items on the grocery list, so how would such a restriction encourage people to buy more expensive, healthier foods?” adds ACSH research intern Susan Ingber.

“The mayor is trying to put the onus of the obesity issue on the back’s of sugared beverages by citing studies that link soda to obesity, but there is no way one can say that the obesity epidemic is caused by sugary drinks. Obesity is caused by the over-consumption of calories from all sources, not just soda,” adds Dr. Ross.