Can Regulations Help Fight Obesity?

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the use of food stamps for soda purchases is still under U.S. Department of Agriculture review.


Some critics, however, believe regulations are no substitute for education.

“In search for yet another ‘quick fix’ to obesity, legislators and politicians nationwide have been trying to regulate what we eat and drink, and this latest proposal is no different,” says Pat Baird, author of The Pyramid Cookbook: Pleasures of the Food Guide Pyramid (right). “As a registered dietitian who advises clients on a daily basis, I know that telling people they can’t have something does not teach them how to make healthier choices. Education is key to cracking obesity. People need information to help them make healthy lifestyle changes.”

But New York City officials believe that eliminating subsidies for soda purchases is a reasonable component of educational efforts—one that complements “the city’s extensive efforts to increase access and consumption of healthy foods in the neighborhoods that need them most.”

These efforts include:

  • The Health Bucks program, which provides a financial incentive for food-stamp beneficiaries to purchase fruits and vegetables in farmers markets
  • The Green Cart program, which has placed 450 produce carts in New York City’s poorest communities
  • The Healthy Bodegas and Stellar Farmers Market programs, which educate corner store owners and consumers in low-income neighborhoods on fruit and vegetable storage and preparation

“At a time when we are seeing a record number of people seeking help in providing for their—and their families’—nutritional needs, it is vital that we ensure this assistance is not being used to undermine their health,” says Kristin Proud, deputy secretary for Human Services, Technology and Operations. “Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to obesity, and although federal food-assistance policy increasingly has emphasized nutrition, this epidemic and its related health problems continue to worsen.”

“We care for more than 56,000 adults with diabetes and thousands more children and adolescents who are at the verge of the disease,” adds Alan Aviles, president of New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corp. “We see too many cases of patients with heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness and amputations as a result of complications from obesity-related illness. By encouraging more families to choose healthier dietary options and avoid sugary drinks, we can address some of the adverse effects of diabetes, which threatens the long-term health status of whole communities and increases the long-term healthcare costs for our society at large.”

Top photo: Like the Grand Canyon

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