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Will a carrot or a stick approach work best in New York? The city and state are petitioning the federal government to allow them to ban soda or other sugary drinks from the food stamps program. If the request is granted, this will be the first time the federal government has agreed to this type of waiver.
State and city health officials are trying to attack the health problems caused by obesity, reports NPR. Statistics say that 57 percent of adults and 40 percent of school kids are overweight or obese. The proposed waiver was announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and state Governor David Patterson on October 7. Under the proposal, the ban on soda would include drinks that have more than 10 calories per 8 ounces. Fruit juices that do not contain added sugar, milk and milk substitutes, even if they are sweetened, would be still be available for purchase with food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
If this proposed waiver is granted by the federal government, reports NPR, it will be the first time such an exception would be allowed. In Minnesota, state officials tried to prohibit the purchase of all junk food (including a soda ban) with the use of SNAP assistance. That proposal was turned down by the USDA, who oversees the program. Perhaps thinking the prohibition covering all junk food was too broad or vague, it was denied by the agency, which said it would cause "confusion and embarrassment" in stores.
This is not the first time New York as attempted to address the health of its citizens. A health initiative to limit the amount of salt in food and a law requiring some restaurants to list the calorie count of their menu items have also been proposed.
NPR reports that food blogger and nutritional expert Marion Nestle has a suggestion other than the ban on soda for attacking the obesity epidemic in New York through the SNAP program. She suggests making food stamps "worth twice as much when spent for fresh (or single-ingredient frozen) fruits and vegetables." That is a carrot that just might work.