Food Stamp Soda Ban Rejected By Obama's Administration
New York City's mayor Michael R. Bloomberg suffered a major blow to his anti-obesity campaign on Friday with the news the Obama's administration had rejected his proposal to ban the use of food stamps for purchasing sodas and other sugary drinks.
Bloomberg's plan, which was submitted to the federal government for review last October, outlined a two-year alteration to the food stamp program temporarily prohibiting the purchase of sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks in New York.
“Sugar-sweetened drinks contribute to the nation's obesity and diabetes epidemics,” read the statement announcing the proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Subsidizing their purchase through Food Stamps contradicts the mission of the Food Stamp program: to help low-income families afford healthy and nutritious food.”
Apparently, the government does not agree.
The USDA responded with a statement on Friday which rejected the plan, stating that it was “too large and complex”. The New York Times reported that the statement cited logistical difficulties “sorting out which beverages could or could not be purchased with food stamps” as well as challenges in determining how this program would have a direct effect on reducing obesity.
New York's city health commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley responded with a statement to the NYT expressing his disappointment with the ruling and calling into question “how serious the U.S.D.A is about addressing the nation's more serous nutritional problem.”
Mayor Bloomberg also commented on the rejection saying, “We think our innovative pilot would have done more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything else being proposed elsewhere in this country — and at little or no cost to taxpayers.” He went on to suggest that families and children will likely suffer as a result.
However, not all parties were so enthusiastic about the Food Stamp soda ban. Soft-drink industry lobbyists had been fighting the proposal along with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger who claimed that this proposal stigmatized the poor, “micromanaged” Food Stamp recipients, and took away their freedom to shop in a way that other customer would.
“The whole attempt was misguided and unworkable,” Joel Berg, executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger, told the NYT. “This proposal was based on the false assumption that poor people were somehow ignorant or culturally deficient.”
Does Soda Cause Obesity?
In recent years there has been quite a bit of evidence to show that soda is a major contributing factor to the development of adverse health affects such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In one study conducted by Harvard pediatrician, Dr. David Ludwig, found that for each additional sweet drink consumed by children each day the odds of obesity increased by 60%.
Another Harvard study of nearly 52,000 nurses found that women who increased their soda consumption also increased in body-mass index (BMI) significantly more than those who did not.
These are just two examples of many studies that have come to similar conclusions. Furthermore, evidence also points to the fact that not only do the high calories and sugar in the drinks directly related to weight gain, but may also promote overeating.
“"Highly concentrated starches and sugars promote overeating, and the granddaddy of them all is sugar-sweetened beverages," explained Dr. Ludwig in a statement regarding his 2001 study which addressed the finding that sugar-sweetened drinks, such as soda, are the only specific food in which researchers are able to make a direct link to weight gain.
The Food Stamp Ban Solution
While the evidence which links soda to obesity is clear, what remains unknown is whether or not prohibiting the sale of these beverages in a food stamp program would actually have an impact on obesity.
A paper released by the Food Policy in 2007 indicated that this type of ban would likely decline the demand for soda, thus decreasing consumption among food stamp recipients. However, this decline in a demand may drive down prices, thus increasing consumption in the general population – a clear catch-22.
The USDA also tossed the idea of a soda ban in their 2007 report which found that placing financial obstacles in front of soda purchases would have an impact on consumption. However, they were unclear about to what extent this would benefit obesity rates.
The bottom line is that the true potential effects of this program on obesity are unknown, as it has yet to be put into practice. Mayor Bloomberg asserts that this is not the end to his fight and he will continue to work on implementing programs to improved the health of those living in New York – with or without Obama's help.