Aggressive Anti-Obesity Campaign Kicks Sodas to the Curb

New York City is no stranger to food controversies. Especially when these controversies are concerning (what is perceived as) government meddling in how and what people eat. There was the trans fat ban, then the proposed sodium ban, and before that there was the compulsory calorie confessions from chain restaurants throughout the city (note: all of these efforts have come during Mayor Bloomberg’s administration). Needless to say, these controversies are extremely contentious largely because New Yorkers (like most hot-blooded Americans these days) tend to dislike being told that their unhealthy and unsustainable diets are not such a good thing. The latest campaign to clean up the eating habits (or in this case, the drinking habits) of New Yorkers holds a different tactic, and will likely yield another brand of controversy altogether.

Mayor Bloomberg, along with Governor Patterson unveiled an ambitious initiative last week to exclude sugar-sweetened beverages, the largest single contributor to the obesity epidemic, from the list of allowable purchases through the nationís food stamp program. This would effectively maintain the current government-funded food stamp benefits for NYC residents already receiving assistance, but the change would be that these recipients would no longer be able to purchase sugary-sweet sodas with these food stamps, as they were able to do once before.

While this may seem punishing, and somewhat arbitrary to some, there is good reason to bring the hammer down on the soda can with these perceived” fat taxes.” According to an NPR report on the subject, more than 1.7 million people in New York City receive food stamps. Data from the Agriculture Department, which administers the food assistance program, show that sugary drinks account for about 6 percent of food stamp use across the country. In New York City that would translate to $75 million or more of subsidized sugary drinks a year.

Take a look at the graphic below to get an idea of how obesity and soda consumption are related in the NYC area (courtesy of New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene):

There obviously seems to be a correlation between consumption and corpulence. But as much as this approach makes sense on paper, is it the most sensible strategy toward battling obesity and promoting good eating habits? These sorts of “sin taxes” are often viewed as overly moral and far too dogmatic to actually take. It also runs the risk of being overly paternal and dictatorial in tone (“You can’t have your dessert until you eat all of your growing food”), which may well result in feelings of persecution and objectification by the underprivileged. Maybe a better tact would be making the inherent value of the food stamps (or more commonly known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) to be greater when used in the purchase of healthier whole foods, rather than sodas and junk foods. Some critics of this proposed plan see it as a potential PR disaster, as well as a logistical nightmare waiting to happen, and are more eager to propose alternate options, like a calorie cap.

Regardless of whether or not this proposal takes and effectively restricts the flow of calorie-rich sodas to food stamp recipients, there remains a serious and significant health and obesity crisis in this country. Do you feel these sort of government sponsored measures, making soda an out of pocket expense, do much to address the problem? Is this just infantilizing a portion of the population? Or should we resort to a “by any means” necessary line of attack when contending with our national heath and obesity crisis?


Jo S.
Jo S.about a year ago

Thank you Eric.

Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

So wrong! Since when is it OK to patronize the poor?

tian y.
Past Member 5 years ago

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Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado6 years ago

I like sodas but stay away as much as possible.

Charles Webb
Charles Webb6 years ago

Obese people are the victims of bigotry and hatred by the left. Leftists are obsessed by fat. Mind your own business!

Charles Webb
Charles Webb6 years ago

Lika S. Cut out the carbs. No crackers of any kind, grains, rice, potatoes, corn, pasta, grapes, very few legumes. Animal protein is your friend, and eat lots of veggies. Fruits--berries and cantelope are the best. Check your glucose before breakfast and before dinner. Over time, you will see it decrease slowly. You may have to go on meds--not necessarily insulin. Take care of your feet. You can injure them and not know it and get infected and loose a foot. Use a mirror to see the bottoms. Get your eyes checked regularly. Have your kidneys checked with a blood test.

Julianna D.
Juliana D.6 years ago

Sodas are truly awful anyway.

Harry M.
Harry M.6 years ago

Laura S., Some sodas contain Vitamin's like Hawiian punch for an example. Conventional (refrigerated) OJ does not contain much fiber anywhere between 1 to 2 grams, unless you get high pulp (most people don't like) if anything you would folks to eat the actual orange and not drink the juice of four compressed oranges.

Over the shelf (non-refrigerated) OJ contains perservatives. These are typically cheaper.

Harry M.
Harry M.6 years ago

This is what I am trying to figure out, OJ has more sugar than any soda and cause GI reactions. Why not ban OJ?

Tori W.
Past Member 6 years ago

I don't care. What I do care about is the precedent this action creates and all the precedent setting actions before it. At least now I know that Gov Chrissy of WA State didn't think of this stuff. She stole the ideas. I knew it was beyond her capabilities. So, just how much intrusion should "Big Brother" have into our lives? The argument is that since they are paying the bill for this, they have the right to set the rules. I agree, but then it should apply straight across the board, even to those countries that we give financial aide to as they should do exactly as we say or no money. Little or small, same idea.