Pepsi Sign in New York City

Michael BloombergAs I reported Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (right) wants to prevent food-stamp recipients in the Big Apple from using them to buy soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. 

New York Times reporter Anemona Hartocollis has since put Bloomberg in an awkward position by revealing that his company, Bloomberg, L.P., offers free Coke, Pepsi, Fanta orange soda, ginger ale and Mountain Dew to its employees. 

Critics are debating whether Bloomberg’s food-stamp proposal makes him a hypocrite or hero. In the meantime, New York City obesity stats remain alarming:

  1. Close to 40% of students in kindergarten through 8th grade are overweight or obese. Among Hispanic students, the rate climbs to 46%. As for adults, 57% of NYC residents are overweight or obese.
  2. Obesity is roughly twice as prevalent in the city’s poorest households: 30% vs. 17% in the wealthiest families.
  3. Poorer children, the primary beneficiaries of the food-stamp program, are more likely to be overweight, and the link between obesity and socioeconomic status has become stronger over the last 20 years. Last year, New Yorkers with the lowest incomes were most likely to consume one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day—double the amount that the wealthiest New Yorkers consume (38% vs. 19%). A child who consumes one sugary drink a day has a 60% higher risk of obesity.
  4. Type 2 diabetes is twice as prevalent among the city’s poorest residents (14% vs. 7% of the city’s wealthiest population). It’s responsible for more than 22,300 hospitalizations each year, with 46% of patients living in low-income neighborhoods.
  5. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in New York City. If childhood obesity rates remain steady or increase, New Yorkers may face a greater incidence of chronic diseases, including heart disease.
  6. Obesity-related illness costs New York State residents nearly $8 billion  each year, which translates to $770 per household.

Bloomberg wants sugar-sweetened beverages to fall into the same category as alcohol and cigarettes, which cannot be purchased with food stamps.

“The food-stamp program is one of our nation’s great achievements, but it can always be improved,” says Robert Doar, NYC’s human resources commissioner. “By excluding unhealthy, sugary drinks from the list of items allowed to be purchased with food-stamp benefits, the program will come closer to meeting its goal of being a nutritional assistance program. Government should not be in the business of subsidizing poor health habits that end up costing taxpayers through higher Medicaid and Medicare costs.”

Top photo: Eric Hauser