Public health officials ponder ethics in Bloomberg's anti-obesity campaign

Anissa Ford's picture

Even though one in eight New Yorkers have diabetes and even though 40 percent of NYC's schoolchildren are overweight or obese, public health officials are incredibly reluctant to get on board Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-obesity campaign.

In the latest round of efforts to reduce obesity and diabetes rates in the city, Bloomberg has proposed a two-year federal government ban on sugared drinks and soda purchases with food stamps. The mayor feels that two years is long enough to research and study the positive health effects such a ban would have on the city.

Anti-obesity advocates say the ban would be not much different from the cigarettes, alcohol, and processed food ban the federal government currently has in place for food stamp recipients. Furthermore, health officials warn that 12 ounces of soda everyday adds up to 15 extra pounds per person per year. Other public health officials say they do not concede easily to Bloomberg's proposal for ethical reasons. The ban implies that food stamp recipients are incapable of making healthy food choices and purchases.

Officials at the beverage commission say the proposed ban is another attempt by NYC to tell food stamp recipients what to eat and drink. Bloomberg and his cronies feel the ban would loosen up food stamp dollars for families to buy other foods and more nutritious beverages.

Health officials warn that 12 ounces of soda everyday adds up to 15 extra pounds per person per year.

In 2005, Minnesota tried and failed to ban food stamp soda purchases. The Department of Agriculture denied the request because it could not face accusations and implications the ban implied about on welfare recipients' ability to properly or healthily choose foods.

Bloomberg is being shunned because some feel his anti-obesity campaign is too aggressive. One advertisement features a man drinking packets of sugar. Bloomberg wanted to impose a tax on soda and sugared drinks, but the measure failed. Alternative ideas being thrown around by public health officials-- who agree that sodas are unhealthy-- include educational campaigns that "dissuade food stamp recipients from buying sugared drinks."

In city stats released last month, data showed that people who live in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to be obese and are more likely to consistently consume sugared drinks.

Mayor Bloomberg says the obesity epidemic has been so difficult to curb over the last 30 years because of rising soda consumption. Currently there are 1.7 million New Yorkers using food stamps, and the rate of food stamp recipients increased by 35 percent over the past couple of years. The rise of food stamp recipients in NYC is similar, if not identical, to the national rise of Americans using food stamps.

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