New York City proposes ban on sugary drinks bought with food stamps

by Kelly MacNeil on October 8, 2010

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor David Paterson have requested the USDA add sugary drinks to the prohibited list of goods bought with food stamps.

The proposal is part of an effort to combat increasing obesity and type 2 diabetes rates, which are higher among NYC’s poorest households and would affect drinks with 10 or more calories per eight ounces – such as sodas and sports drinks.

The ban would not affect milk products nor diet sodas.

Though food stamps currently allow people to purchase ice cream and candy, city officials claim they must target drinks due to the fact that low-income people are more likely to consume sugary drinks and twice as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as when compared to higher income people, according to NPR.com.

Currently 1.7 million people in NYC use food stamps.

Some advocates for the poor claimed the restriction singles out families with low incomes, and may prevent some from seeking government assistance.

Others stated that the program was initially developed for its participants to gain access to nutritional foods.

“By definition (the food stamp program) is designed to provide supplemental nutrition. Few nutrition experts would list sugar-sweetened beverages as supplementing good nutrition as they contain only calories and no nutrition at a time when obesity is a major national concern,” Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University wrote on YaleRuddCenter.com.

The city has requested the ban be temporary, and last for two years while the effects are studied. Officials say they are confident their request will be granted, according to the Wall Street Journal.

State health commissioners speaking to the New York Times supported the ban. They claimed that the money spent on sweet sodas through food stamps amounted to a Federal subsidy to the sweetened beverage industry.

The USDA, which has implemented rules against sugary drinks in the national school lunch program, said the proposal is currently under consideration.

Over the past 20 years the nation has witnessed a dramatic increase in its obesity rates, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York, CNN.com reported that the poorest households have a 30 percent obesity rate and 14 percent of these households were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

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