“Stamp out Soda” to Fight Chronic Disease?

Posted on: November 3rd, 2010 by Arogya World

New York City has been a trailblazer in implementing sweeping policies to reduce the impact of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Today, we are highlighting another controversial campaign from Mayor Bloomberg, who brought you the city’s 2003 indoor smoking ban, and a 2006 ban on transfats in New York City restaurants (read about it all in the Time Healthland blog), and a 2008 requirement that chain restaurants post nutritional information on their menus. We invite you to weigh in and participate in the dialogue.

In early October, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, with the support of Governor David Paterson, proposed that the USDA’s food stamp program should prohibit New Yorkers from buying sugary soft drinks with state funds. The hope, of course, is to influence people to improve their diets and be healthier, thus reducing obesity and the risk of acquiring chronic diseases like diabetes, diseases that are as expensive to manage as they are debilitating.

Bloomberg proposes this as a two-year experiment, to see if any measurable positive effect is realized.

This proposal raises some really thought-provoking questions about personal responsibility and where government’s jurisdiction ends. Whatever your position on the merits of the actual plan, we believe Bloomberg should be congratulated for taking bold action. If we’re going to reduce the impact of NCDs and help people live longer, healthier lives, leaders around the world must think big.

Dr. Fran Kaufman, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Global Medical, Clinical & Health Affairs at Medtronic Diabetes, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Pediatrics and Communications at USC, and member of Arogya World’s Indo-US Scientific Steering Committee, commented on the New York City experiment, saying:

In light of the recently released CDC report about the continuing escalation of diabetes – driven in large part by obesity – that will soon engulf one in three Americans, taking bold steps to improve the environment in which we live, work, learn and play is imperative. Just like health care facilities, schools and the workplace should offer only healthy options, so should the federal government through its federal food programs. By improving the quality of what the federal food program pays for now, our government will reap the profits by spending less on chronic diseases in the future.

Debate on the October 6 announcement has been lively. Here are a couple of different points of view:

o In a New York Times op-ed Thomas Farley, New York City health commissioner, and Richard F. Daines, New York State health commissioner, support the proposal. They argue that it is in line with the program’s mission to both reduce hunger and improve nutrition.

Hank Cardello suggests in The Atlantic that rather than banning a particular product, food stamp recipients receive a monthly calorie allotment.

• This Los Angeles Times editorial suggests that Bloomberg would be better served by sticking to campaigns that focus on educating people about smart food choices and that making lifestyle choices for food stamp recipients that aren’t made for other Americans, is demeaning and ineffective.

Tell us what you think – is this proposal a positive step in a campaign to reduce rising obesity rates? What if anything is its real value?