Food stamp ban on soda purchases is flat-out paternalism

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In March, ACSH challenged the validity of a proposal by New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg to prohibit the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages with food stamps. The New York Times covered the same topic yesterday in an article titled “Soft Drink Industry Fights Proposed Food Stamp Ban,” which ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross points out is a bit misleading. “It’s as though they’re implying that no one could be opposed to such a ban except the soft drink industry, yet the rest of the article clearly delineates that there are multiple organizations and interest groups — including those that are concerned with fighting hunger among the poor — that are against this misguided and paternalistic proposal.”

The mayor justifies the ban on the premise that it will reduce the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, but as we have pointed out before, such a ban would set a precedent for the government to dsitinguish so-called good foods from bad ones.

Under the proposed ban, food stamps would no longer be redeemable for the purchase of carbonated and noncarbonated drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup that contain over ten calories per eight-ounce serving.

But other factors, besides sodas, contribute to obesity, and even President Obama has stated, “There are no bad foods, only bad diets.” For ACSH’s Dr Elizabeth Whelan, the proposed ban comes as no surprise. “This is just another attempt in a long list of simplistic solutions to solve the obesity crisis. Even if it were true that sugary beverages are the leading cause of obesity, which is far from proven — despite what some advocacy groups assert — addressing that problem would make barely a dent in resolving the obesity epidemic.”

Pointing out that the New York City Health Department has a strong reputation for dictating useless dietary practices, such as banning trans fats, Dr. Ross believes the new proposal is reminiscent of New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley’s phony ad campaigns likening a can of soda to a pound of lard, which even his subordinates tried to advise him against running.

ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom wonders how far the government will go in their morphing of simple dietary guidelines into food policy decrees and whether any logic will be employed. “Presumably it will still be okay to purchase milk with food stamps,” he says. “If so, then what about chocolate milk? Or chocolate ice cream, or milk chocolate? There is no way I can envision that the types of restrictions being discussed will be logical or have any meaningful effect.”