Conversation Starter: Mayor Bloomberg's Bid to Ban Soda Purchases with Food Stamps
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long made it a paramount goal to rid New York City of unhealthful foods, and he recently asked the Federal government for permission to prohibit Food Stamp recipients from using stamps to buy soda and other sugared beverages in the city.
Supporters are cheering Bloomberg’s stance, saying he’s striking a blow for better dietary habits and ultimately lower public health costs and consequences such as obesity. But critics question the move, seeing it as an example of big government, even patronizing toward the poor.
Research can be a valuable guidepost for public officials. In 2009, after Mayor Bloomberg required restaurant franchises to put calories counts on their menus, NYU Wagner professors Rogan Kersh and Brian Elbel sought to measure the impact of the calorie labeling initiative on consumer habits at fast-food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods. Their survey of 1,156 adult found little direct evidence to support the Mayor’s view that the posting of calorie counts causes fast-food patrons to buy items containing fewer calories. Elbel’s and Kersh’s widely discussed study, published in the journal Health Affairs, emphasized that follow-up studies are needed to determine the value and effectiveness of menu labeling and other obesity-related policies.
Professor Elbel describes the Mayor’s current proposal to prohibit the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks as “an extremely innovative policy approach to tackle the complicated and multifaceted problem of obesity. It deserves a rigorous assessment, to evaluate its overall impact on healthy food choice and obesity,” says Professor Elbel, assistant professor of medicine and health policy. “The rest of the nation can then learn from the New York City experience as these and other policies to fight obesity are considered across the country.”
What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s food stamp initiative? Is it good public policy? Or should it just be allowed to fizzle out? Visit Wagner’s Public Service Today blog to post your comment today.