New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made a goal of his third term in office to make his constituency as healthy as possible, in spite of themselves. He has gotten a law passed to force restaurants to place calorie counts on their menu items, and has attacked salt and sugar vigorously.
His latest attempt has run aground, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA last week denied the mayor a waiver that would have allowed the city to prevent residents from buying sugar-sweetened soft drinks with food stamps.
In denying the waiver, which would have allowed the city to set up a ban on a temporary basis, to be evaluated, the USDA stated that it “had concerns about the plans potential viability and effectiveness.” Specifically, according to an article on the Yahoo! News website, the proposal didn’t do enough to spell out which products would be affected, take into account the impact on retailers and didn’t outline well enough how the city would evaluate the ban’s effectiveness on curbing obesity.
According to the mayor’s proposal, the ban would have applied to any sweetened soft drink that contained more than 10 calories per eight ounces.
I’m of two minds when it comes to the idea of a “Nanny State” such as Bloomberg is trying to effect. On the one hand, I’m not comfortable with the government having a heavy hand in the choices I’m allowed to make as a consumer. On the other hand, as someone who does a lot of grocery shopping, I have witnessed food stamp recipients using their government benefits to make a host of unhealthy choices. I often think, “Shouldn’t you be buying more nutritious food for your children with those stamps, and use your own money for snacks and such?” Then again, I’ve never had to use food stamps or other government hand-outs, so I’ve not walked in their shoes.
The debate centers around whether the government should be allowed to control how the indigent spend the money the government gives them. Do people have a right to, in Mayor Bloomberg’s opinion, abuse their bodies and those of their children with government money? Of course, the mayor thinks not—he doesn’t even think people should be making unhealthy choices with their own money.
So, how much of a say should our elected officials have in how food stamp recipients use those vouchers? Readers, what are your thoughts?