New York seeks to ban sugary drinks from food stamp buys

Associated Press | 10/12/2010, 8:46 p.m.

“Sugar-sweetened drinks are not worth the cost to our health, and government shouldn’t be promoting or subsidizing them,” said Bloomberg, who also has outlawed trans-fats in restaurant food and has forced chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus.

In fiscal year 2009, New Yorkers received $2.7 billion in food stamp benefits and spent $75 million to $135 million of that on sugary drinks, the city said.

Officials said stores that participate in the food stamp program would be responsible for enforcing the ban. They acknowledged the possibility that food stamp users could travel outside city limits to buy the prohibited drinks.

Advocates for the poor expressed alarm about the proposal, which the New York City Coalition Against Hunger said “punishes poor people for the supposed crime of being poor.”

“It’s sending the message to low-income people that they are uniquely the only people in America who don’t know how to take care of their family,” said Joel Berg, the group's executive director. “The problem isn’t that they’re making poor choices, the problem is that they can’t afford nutritious food.”

There still are many unhealthful products New Yorkers could purchase with food stamps, including potato chips, ice cream and candy. Officials said the proposal targets sugary drinks because they are the largest contributor to obesity.

More than half of adult New York City residents are overweight or obese, along with nearly 40 percent of public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

City officials said lower-income residents are most likely to drink one or more sugar-sweetened drinks a day; adult-onset diabetes is also twice as common among poor New Yorkers compared to the wealthiest.

In New York, a proposal to adopt a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened soda failed to get out of the state Legislature earlier this year; Bloomberg backed the state proposal.

Associated Press