Bloomberg: Sugary Beverages and Food Stamps Shouldn't Mix

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The city's 1.7 million food stamp users will have a narrower choice of things to purchase, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg persuades the federal government to let him try an experiment.

The city is applying for permission to conduct a two-year "demonstration project" that would prevent food stamp users from using the federally-funded debit cards to purchase sugary beverages. "To use those monies, to subsidize cigarettes or alcohol or full-sugar drinks, is what we're really talking about," Bloomberg said. "That just doesn't make any sense."

Bloomberg and the city and state health commissioners are trying to make the case that diabetes and obesity are skyrocketing, especially among low-income New Yorkers. And they point out food stamp users already can't use their cards to purchase alcoholic beverages or prepared foods.

The United Way thinks the proposal is a good idea. But the New York City Coalition Against Hunger argues it won't reduce obesity, until healthier food becomes more affordable.

In 2004, the state of Minnesota applied to Washington to limit food stamp use to a wide range of unhealthy foods and was denied. There was the feeling that such a rule-change -- even if temporary -- added to the stigma that people who use food stamps just buy junk food. This sort of initiative makes a broad range of people uncomfortable -- from the food and beverage industry, not surprisingly, to some advocates who support better nutrition and access to healthy food for the poor but who don't think they, alone, should have the soda bottle snatched away.