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 beverage 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,
underscored that follow-up studies are needed to determine the value and
effectiveness of menu labeling as well as other obesity-related policies.
Professor Elbel describes the Mayor’s current proposal to
bar food stamps for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks “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,” adds 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
What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s food stamp initiative? Is
it good public policy? Post your comment today.