Sunday, October 10, 2010

New York fights the sweet battle of soda and food stamps

To curb the growing epidemic of obesity in our country, the current mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg has sought federal permission to dissuade food-stamp users from buying sugared drinks or soda.

The request was made to the United States Department of Agriculture, which regulates the food-stamp program.  A brief overview of the mayor’s proposal suggested an initial ban of two years. This will be followed by market surveillance to study if it has a positive impact on health and whether a permanent ban would be essential.  During the briefing session he mentioned that the country still battles the unfinished signature issues of obesity and diabetes. This initiative will enable the food-stamp recipients to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.

This proposal was well received by the public health experts and George Hacker, senior policy adviser for the health promotion project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
He suggested that campaigns creating awareness about the ill-effects of soda or sugared drinks on our body would be a feasible approach to bar food-stamp recipients from buying sugared beverages.  Mr Bloomberg’s health commissioner Thomas A. Farley and the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines explained that such a ban would not impact the ability of food-stamp recipients to feed their families. He stated that “These recipients will still be able to purchase with every penny of support but will be able to spend on healthy and nutritious food”. Dr. Daines wrote. “And they could still purchase soda if they choose — just not with taxpayer dollars.”

Tracey Halliday, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association quickly retorted to this matter stating that: “This is yet another attempt by government to tell the people what they should eat and drink.” During this time of ongoing recession, the number of food-stamp recipients in New York has grown more than 35 percent, mirroring a nationwide trend. The mayor’s proposal could potentially raise concerns about equity, since such a ban targets only the weaker segment of the city.

A similar proposal was addressed in 2004, wherein the Agriculture Department declined the request by Minnesota to prevent food-stamp recipients from buying junk food. This issue had infuriated many welfare rights advocates who accused the state of being patronizing to food-stamp users.

Information related to the ban indicated that beverages with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces would be affected. Fruit juices without added sugar, milk products and milk substitutes would be excluded. Nutrition experts state that a 12-ounce soda has 150 calories and the equivalent of 10 packets of sugar. City studies by health officials say that drinking 12 ounces of soda a day can make a person gain 15 pounds a year.

Food-stamp recipients expressed their views about this ban and one food – stamp user, Marangeley Reyes, 24, of Harlem, said the mayor should not dictate what foods should be bought. Ms. Reyes had just purchased a 20-ounce bottle of Orange Crush that she drinks at least one a day. After giving some thought to the mayor’s proposal she said, “I probably shouldn’t be drinking so much soda.” Sometimes second thoughts are like second chances which can spin things in a more positive direction. It remains to be seen if this important initiative can change some more minds and inspire people across the country to revisit their eating habits. PlanetNewsWorld

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