Using food stamps to buy sugary soft drinks could be banned in New York City if a proposal submitted to the USDA by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson is accepted.
Bloomberg and Paterson argue that sugar-sweetened beverages provide no nutritional value and Americans consume an average of 200 to 300 more calories a day than 30 years ago – nearly half from sugary drinks. Meanwhile, obesity rates have ballooned, particularly among New York City’s poorest households. The Food Stamp Program (now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) was introduced in 1964 with the stated aim to “provide for improved levels of nutrition among low-income households.”
“The use of food stamp benefits to support the purchase of sugar sweetened drinks not only contradicts the intent of this vital program, but it also subsidizes a serious public health epidemic,” Paterson said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Bloomberg said: “This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.”
The proposal would provide food stamp recipients with the same amount of benefits, but they would not be able to use them to buy sugar-sweetened beverages for two years.
Professor of nutrition Dr. Barry Popkin told FoodNavigator-USA.com that he thought that banning the purchase of sugary beverages for food stamp beneficiaries to curb consumption is “a worthy goal” but said he did not think it would happen at this time.
“The legal structure of our Food Stamp Program would have to be changed. They probably won’t get it,” he said. “Politically it’s going to be very difficult for them to get anything through…This is something the food industry will fight.”
The American Beverage Association (ABA), which supports the interests of the beverage industry, called the proposal “another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink, and will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it.”
The ABA argues that efforts should be concentrated on “comprehensive solutions that address balancing calories in with calories out”.