In another move aimed at improving New Yorkers' health by regulation, mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced
a proposal to bar food stamp users from buying sodas with
city funds. The proposed two-year ban, which is currently under
consideration by the Department of Agriculture, is intended to combat
obesity and diabetes. The mayor, who already banned
trans-fats from restaurants and lobbied against excessive salt in foods,
says the "initiative will give New York families more money to spend on
foods and drinks that provide real nourishment." Though 57 percent of the city's adults are overweight or obese,
the plan has met with skepticism from critics who it
see as a paternalistic gesture.
- 'Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures' writes food policy blogger Tom Laskawy
at Grist, who appears in favor of the ban. "The federal government
remains unable and unwilling to staunch the unremitting flow of
marketing dollars aimed at boosting consumers' purchases of "liquid
candy." Meanwhile, state governments are at the mercy of overwhelming
industry lobbying against attempts to levy taxes on sweetened beverages.
In this hostile environment, appealing to the USDA to let it restrict
food stamp use is one of the last arrows in cities' public health
- No Food Stamps for Sodas In a New York Times op-ed contribution the city and state's health commissioners,Thomas Farley and Richard Daines,
outline their reasoning for imposing the temporary ban: "Medical
researchers have increasingly associated the consumption of
sugar-sweetened beverages with weight gain and the development of
diabetes. Over the past 30 years, consumption of sugary beverages in the
United States has more than doubled, in parallel with the rise in
obesity, to the point where nearly one-sixth of an average teenager’s
calories now come from these drinks." They remind their critics that
they are not reducing funding for food stamps and these users still can
purchase soda "just not with taxpayer dollars."
- It's About Time, 'Thank Goodness' weighs in CBS news pundit Harry Smith.
"America is eating itself to death," he contends. We are "Eating foods
with grotesquely high calorie counts and sloshing it down with high
sugar and high fructose drinks. It's a formula that's turned us into a
people too fat to fight off diabetes. The price tag is practically
incalculable. Living on food stamps isn't easy. And maybe it feels like a
treat to buy soda for the kids, but eliminating those soft drinks will
be better for everybody, and it's a way to stretch the buying power of
those food stamps a little farther."
- Could Have Further-Reaching Implications warns Jillian Melchior
at Contentions. "This story could be seen as some microscopic
foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the
surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients...Granted, in New York
City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill
the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue,
it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors
will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue."
- The 'Paternalistic' Nature of It "makes me uncomfortable" but "I actually think it makes some sense," hedges Ira Stoll
at the blog Future of Capitalism. "I don't object to the idea of a
government food stamp safety net to make sure that people don't starve,
though I think that without one private charity would rise to the
challenge. But it's one thing to provide people with enough food to make
sure they are healthy and not starving; it's another thing to feed them
enough soda to make them obese, at taxpayer expense."
- Is This Really the Best Way? Time's Meredith Melnick
details the opposition to the ban: "Not everyone agrees that
restriction is the best solution. Advocates for the urban poor suggest
that such a move would patronize and alienate an already stigmatized
population. In 2004, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) rejected a
similar Minnesota proposal to bar people from buying candy and soda with
food stamps, because it perpetuated the stereotype that food
stamp-users make bad food choices."
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