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article imageNYC food stamps ban proposal on sugary drinks faces challenge Special

By Jane Fazackarley     Oct 16, 2010 in Health
Proposals by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patterson to stop food stamps recipients in New York City from using them to buy sugary drinks are facing opposition
Details of the proposal were detailed in a press release last week and covered on Digital Journal. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patterson say that the move would help curb the obesity epidemic.
Last week New York City sought the permission of the United States Department of Agriculture to introduce a temporary two year ban but, according to an article published by the New York Times, experts have stated that the USDA do not have the power to implement the ban and it would need Congress to change the law.
In a statement about the proposed ban the American Beverage Association said:
"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. This is just another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink, and will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it."
"If we want to reduce obesity in this country, we need to look at comprehensive solutions that address balancing calories in with calories out."
Obesity is the number two killer in the United States. According to statistics from Get America Fit, 60m American's aged 20 and upwards are considered obese and 9m children and teenagers aged 6-19 are obese leaving them vulnerable to conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and stroke but experts say that this is not the way forward.
Pat Baird has worked as a registered dietitian for more than twenty years. She is also a college professor and a consultant for the food and beverage industry. She gave me her opinion on the proposal:
" I'm opposed to this both personally and professionally. Personally, I'm a believer in freedom of choice -- at any economic level. Professionally, I'm committed to teaching people the skills to make better food (and beverage) choices. Removing that choice does nothing to help people's well being and health. In the 20 years that I've been a registered dietitian, college professor and consultant to the food and beverage industries, I'm convinced that education is what motivates and helps people to change - not negative reinforcement."
Attempts to stop people using food stamps to buy junk food have been refused before. In your opinion, do you think this time will be any different?
"I sincerely hope not. And I agreed with the USDA's decision to turn down a similar request which came about in Minnesota in 2004. In 2007, the USDA also did a study and reported that people will continue to purchase sugary foods despite these regulations. In the end, there is no positive behavior change and it very well might create a further sense of disenfranchisement that people on food stamps already feel."
What do you think would be a better approach to tackling obesity and the problems associated with it?
It's critical that we teach people the relationship between food choices, activity and overall health. Whether this is better supermarket information, putting physical education back into schools, worksite wellness programs or a variety of other means, we need to TEACH those skills to everyone."
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