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Bloomberg reports that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Governor David Paterson are asking the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to no longer allow food stamp recipients to use them for the purchase of sugared soft drinks, blaming them for the obesity epidemic affecting the poor.

“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. “There is clear evidence that low-income individuals have higher rates of obesity and are more at risk of becoming obese than other groups.”

According to the story, “The state’s office for disability assistance intends to ask the USDA to exclude the drinks from the list of items that can be purchased with food stamps, a welfare program that started in1964, the statement said. The ban, requested by both the state and local governments, would affect only the city.”

The statement from Bloomberg and Paterson also made the point that “obesity related illness costs New York state residents almost $8 billion annually, or $770 for each household ... Overweight or obese adults compose 57 percent of the city’s population, they said. Almost half, or 46 percent, of the 22,300 people hospitalized for obesity-related diabetes each year live in low-income neighborhoods, the statement said.

Not surprisingly, the American beverage Association is against the proposal, saying that it “will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it ... There is nothing unique about the calories in sugar-sweetened beverages -- which include flavored waters, sports drinks, juice drinks and teas -- to justify singling them out for elimination from eligible purchases in the food stamps program in New York City.
KC's View:
The last point is what should be debated. The first point from the beverage folks, however, seems a little specious to me. After all, if a ban would affect those “who can least afford it,” that means the people it affects probably also can’t afford very good health care, and are having at least some of their obesity-related medical expenses picked up by the government...which is to say, by the taxpayers.

I also don’t understand limiting the request to New York City. If people really believe this claim about soft drinks and obesity, it ought to be a national ban.