Friday, October 8, 2010

NYC Steps Up AGAIN to Fight Obesity

In Thursday's New York Times, there was an article detailing how Mayor Bloomberg has asked the USDA for permission to ban the use of food stamps for the purchase of sodas in New York City.   The ban would apply to all sodas or other sugary drinks.  If approved, the ban would last for two years while its effectiveness would be studied. 

Why would Mayor Bloomberg and his office propose such a ban?  According to the Times article, there are 1.7 million people in New York City who receive food stamps.  It goes on to say:
City statistics released last month showed that nearly 40 percent of public-school children in kindergarten through eighth grade were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods. City studies show that consumption of sugared beverages is consistently higher in those neighborhoods.
It is statistics like this that have public health officials so concerned about the health of our country. 

What's my take on this issue?  Well, as soon as I heard about this in the news, I was very supportive.  I think that because obesity is such an epidemic in this country (especially in low income neighborhoods), we should explore any possible solution to the issue.  I've said before in other blog posts here, here and here, we need a food revolution in this country.   I've also talked about liquid calories here and how they contribute to obesity.  We need to change how we think about food and I think that in this instance, government can have help us change.

I really don't have a problem with a limit on what can be purchased with food stamps.  Food stamps should be used for food, not for soda which provides absolutely no nutritional value.  Other federal grant programs like WIC limit types of food that can be purchased in the hopes of providing the most nutrtitous food possible.  So there is a precedent within our government that already exists.  No, I don't want to stigmatize low income families but I also don't want them to use my tax dollars to buy sodas.

If you read this blog you know that I'm a fan of Marion Nestle.  I value her opinion and she has already weighed in on this issue.  Read her full thoughts here but to quote one part of her post she says, "...if I were in charge of Food Stamps, I would much prefer incentives: make the benefit worth twice as much when spent for fresh (or single-ingredient frozen) fruits and vegetables."  A valid point and a more of a positive approach.

Another opinion offered in the Times article was from George Hacker, a senior policy advisor from Center for Science in the Public Interest.  He says, “The world would be better, I think, if people limited their purchases of sugared beverages.  However, there are a great many ethical reasons to consider why one would not want to stigmatize people on food stamps.”

A good friend expressed these thoughts to me about the proposed ban, "Paternalistic. . but no more than having to wear helmets when you right a motorcycle . . . or use a seat belt in a car. ."  Well put.  We don't like government getting involved in our rights but sometimes it is needed.  I think this is one of those times.  I'm sure this isn't the last time we'll hear about this and I will be interested to hear more about the debate. 

What do you think?

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