Fighting Obesity, NYC Looks to Regulate the Use of Food Stamps
As part of his ambitious program to fight obesity and diabetes in New York City, Michael Bloomberg is looking to change the rules governing the use of food stamps, to ban their use for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks, the New York Times reported. This is the latest in a litany of Bloomberg's efforts to raise the City's green profile, including installing wind farms, planting a garden at City Hall, and an (unsuccessful) push for a congestion charge. To keep the 1.7 million New Yorkers on food stamps from using them to buy soda, Bloomberg needs the approval of the Department of Agriculture, which set the rules. The DOA, which received Bloomberg's request on Wednesday, has yet to make a decision, though in 2004, it rejected a similar request from Minnesota, to prohibit the use of food stamps for the purchase of junk food. That decision was based on the belief that the proposed regulation would perpetuate the stereotype that low-income shoppers make poorly informed choices. The New York Times wrote:
Public health experts greeted Mr. Bloomberg's proposal cautiously. George Hacker, senior policy adviser for the health promotion project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said a more equitable approach might be to use educational campaigns to dissuade food-stamp users from buying sugared drinks.
"The world would be better, I think, if people limited their purchases of sugared beverages," Mr. Hacker said. "However, there are a great many ethical reasons to consider why one would not want to stigmatize people on food stamps."
It's a hard line to walk between respecting the right's of food stamp recipients to make their own decisions, and the desire to ensure that taxpayer money is not used to contribute to obesity-related health issues. Especially since the growing obesity epidemic poses a threat not only to American health, but to the country's pocketbook. But if the Department of Agriculture approves Bloomberg's request, it could set a precedent to be followed by the rest of the country.
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