NYC to Food Stamp Users: No Soda for You

Food stamps shouldn't buy soda, mayor says.

ByABC News
October 7, 2010, 2:27 PM

Oct. 7, 2010— -- New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with the encouragement of both city and state health commissioners, is seeking to bar the use of food stamps for buying soda and other sweetened drinks.

Bloomberg is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which controls the food stamp program, for permission to institute a two-year ban that would affect the estimated 1.7 million city residents who receive food stamps. That time frame, he said, would permit health officials to study the health impact of such a ban.

The request, according to the mayor's office, would not in any way reduce food stamp eligibility or size of the food stamp benefit received by recipients.

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"Bravo to Mayor Bloomberg for his efforts," said Ari Brown, MD, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas. "When food options are limited to healthy choices, it can only help in the fight against the obesity problem in our country."

City health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and Dr. Richard F. Daines, the state health commissioner, explained the reasoning behind the proposed ban in an op-ed article published in today's New York Times.

"The city would bar the use of food stamps to buy beverages that contain more sugar than substance — that is, beverages with low nutritional value that contain more than 10 calories per eight-ounce serving," they wrote, adding that the ban would "not apply to milk, milk substitutes (like soy milk, rice milk or powdered milk) or fruit juices without added sugar — and its effects would be rigorously evaluated."

Farley and Daines noted that the proposed ban was "entirely in keeping with existing standards for defining what is and isn't nutritious. The Agriculture Department itself has declared sugar-sweetened beverages to be "foods of minimal nutritional value."

There are already a number of limitations on the use of food stamps — they cannot be used to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, imported foods, soap, toothpaste, paper products, cleaning supplies, or disposable diapers. Nor can they be used to purchase meals in restaurants.