UPDATE [8/24/2011]: The USDA has rejected the proposal to ban soda purchases made with food stamps.
With obesity numbers skyrocketing and the associated medical costs out of control, New York City has decided to make a major change to their food stamp program. The program, now called SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), serves more than 1.7 million New York City residents. City Health Commissioner Tom Farley and New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines have asked the USDA for a food stamp waiver for two years during which recipients would not be allowed to use their food stamps to buy sodas.
The reasoning behind the program was explained in the Times:
“City statistics released last month showed that nearly 40 percent of public-school children in kindergarten through eighth grade were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods. City studies show that consumption of sugared beverages is consistently higher in those neighborhoods … Anticipating such criticism, Dr. Farley and Dr. Daines said that the food-stamp program already prohibited the use of benefits to buy cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor or prepared foods.”
The piece continued:
“Every year, tens of millions of federal dollars are spent on sweetened beverages in New York City through the food stamp program — far more than is spent on obesity prevention. This amounts to an enormous subsidy to the sweetened beverage industry.”
With more than 40% of most children’s daily intake coming from empty calories, many see this as a welcome restriction, but others see it as a case of “Big Brother” going too far. What do you think? Should the government be able to set limits on the purchases Food Stamp recipients can make with their benefit cards?