USDA Rejects New York Plan To Ban Food Stamp Use on Soda

The USDA last week rejected New York’s proposal to ban the use of food stamps to buy soda within the state.

The state needed a special waiver from the USDA to implement such a change to the federal food stamps program.  There’s been much debate over the morality, efficacy and wisdom of New York’s proposed ban, but the USDA didn’t get drawn into the debate in deciding to refuse New York’s requested waiver.  Instead, it rejected the proposal on grounds of complexity.  The USDA apparently feels it’s too hard to decide which beverages qualify for the ban and which ones don’t.

Too bad, because I’d have liked to have heard some broader debate on the proposal itself.  Though some view the proposal as coming down unevenly on lower income New Yorkers, others believe it would accomplish little in the way of reducing obesity, and others feel the state should stay out of people’s business, I liked the plan.

What’s to like, if its effects may be minimal, its fairness is uncertain and it’s another extension of the so-called “nanny state?”  I like that it sets a precedent in the law against soda.  Maybe I’m predisposed to liking this precedent because I’m grateful for Mayor Bloomberg’s previous “nanny state” rules, banning cigarettes and trans fats from restaurants and bars.  But I also like it because I believe soda is doing at least as much harm to our health as cigarettes and trans fats.  And if we can slap bans on the latter, we should be able to slap bans on the former.  Put this law on the books and it places soda in the public’s mind as a vice on that same level.

I recognize the risks of the proposed ban.  I empathize with people who don’t want government telling them what they can’t eat; and it’s tough in many cases to tell what foods truly are good or bad for us.  Government certainly has changed its stance on many foods, and we can’t just go banning whichever products seem dangerous at any given time.  Also it seems unfair to place the prohibition only on the use of food stamps, which is limited to only certain individuals.  (Though people who use food stamps could still buy soda with dollars and cents; they just couldn’t use the food stamps themselves.)

But in my gut I like the ban anyway, and mourn its rejection by the USDA.   Nobody’s doing themselves or anyone else a favor by drinking these sodas, and it’s about time governments recognized that with their implications for diabetes, obesity and heart disease they may cause as great (or greater) a health risk to society as cigarettes ever did.

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5 Responses to USDA Rejects New York Plan To Ban Food Stamp Use on Soda

  1. Like this post and the issue it addresses… I’m not American, but the American government/ companies/ buying patterns do affect people all over the world, so may I add something?
    Yes, not fair on the government’s part to ‘decide’ what we should or should not eat… but by getting food stamps for soda, we get the implicit feeling that there can’t be THAT much wrong with something that the government is almost advising us to buy.
    While the soda lobby is strong, the basic fact that sodas are unhealthy – even detrimental to health cannot be denied. The government needs to figure that out.

  2. hunkasebnest says:

    I am a former special education teacher and I wrote a children’s picture book that tackles the issue of childhood obesity. Hunka Chunka Monkey Shapes Up entertains children without being preachy. It places a simple truth as a foundation in their hearts… cut back on their favorite snack, become active and make new friends.

    Chris Powell of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition reads my book to his children every night. He stated on his FaceBook, “The kids are requesting Hunka Chunka Monkey Shapes Up for their bedtime story tonight….AGAIN! This is the third in a row, but I love it. What a great message of healthy living for children:). Nicely done, Sam E Bromley!” Chris’s wife, Heidi Powell, used such words as ‘amazing’ and ‘brilliant’ when describing my story! I am excited about getting this message out. You can go to and type in my book’s name: Hunka Chunka Monkey Shapes Up and see a brief message about my story! Please pass this on for all to see and partner with me and let us stop the obesity problem in America by encouraging the very young to skip, run and jump their way to a better life and a better future!

    Sam E Bromley

  3. Pingback: New York Health Department Finds Evidence for Banning the Use of Food Stamps for Soda | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

  4. A complicated issue- we live in an era and culture (North American) where many people choose not to take responsibility for themselves, and blame all their short comings, health issues, and violent tendencies on external factors. If we think gov’t is being too heavy handed in dictating, with health in mind, how food stamps can be used, then it is completely unacceptable to allow the suing of McDonald’s for “making people fat.” We can’t have it both ways- either we take responsibility for our own health, and the health of our children, or we don’t.

    In Canada, where we are notorious for having high sales taxes that vary from province to province (5-15%), food such as bread and grains, fruit, veggies, and dairy are not taxed but junk food such as pop and chips are (although, many processed food products I would consider “junk” are also exempt from the sales taxes). I don’t know how it works in the States, but I like our system. It’s important to note this is not a junk-food tax, rather, essential foods are not taxed and so junk food gets caught up in the tax that includes clothing, toilet paper, electronics, etc. Although, I think junk food SHOULD have a special tax that goes beyond the regular sales tax, but only because our gov’t does provide such extensive medical services, and if we can’t be bothered to take good care of ourselves and expect the gov’t to foot our medical bill, then they should have the right to ask money for the very things making us sick. Since I can’t speak to the American health care system (or lack thereof? I’m embarrassingly ignorant of American issues, short of the sensational stuff that hits our news), I don’t know what would work south of the border. But, something to think about.

    I know it’s not the same as the food stamps issue, but perhaps a blanket junk food tax wouldn’t be a bad idea. Provided that tax money is used to provide free health services.

    Sorry for the ramble. It makes sense as I type this, but I make no guarantees beyond that right now…I’m up very late as it is far too humid and hot to sleep in my part of the world right now!

  5. Pingback: Bloomberg’s Large-Soda Ban: Why This Time I Part Ways with the Mayor | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

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