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Food stamps should not cover junk food

To her credit, first lady Michelle Obama has made battling childhood obesity her personal crusade. She has pushed for more exercise, more vegetable gardens and healthier school lunches.

These are good ideas, but New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and other mayors have a better idea:

Congress should ban the use of food stamps to purchase sugary drinks.

Allowing people to use public money to buy junk food doesn't just contribute to the childhood obesity the administration is so concerned about. It undermines public support for the program as well.

Food stamps are officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Bloomberg and 17 other mayors want the program to live up to its name.

"We need to find ways to strengthen the program and promote good nutrition while limiting the use of these resources for items with no nutritional value, like sugary drinks, that are actually harming the health of participants," Bloomberg said.

"Why should we continue supporting unhealthy purchases in the false name of nutrition assistance?"

Good question.

Food stamp recipients could still buy sodas, but they would have to do it with their own money, not the money taxpayers give them to purchase healthy foods.

Another government food program, the Women, Infants and Children program, has stricter rules about how taxpayer money may be used.

The food stamp program is not just about feeding poor people. It has become an $80 billion-a-year cash cow for the food industry, which hires lobbyists to protect its interests when rules are made.

A spokesman for the American Beverage Association said obesity is a "complex health condition that affects Americans of all income levels," which is true.

But why feed the problem with food stamps?

Most Americans have waited in the checkout line while a customer at the front takes snacks and sodas out of the cart and then hands over the electronic SNAP benefit card.

Whatever happened to using food stamps to buy nutritional foods?

Food stamps may very well be contributing to the national epidemic of obesity. Why would the government continue to do that?

Congress should get real about this and limit what people may buy with the public's money. Cigarettes and beer already are banned.

Developing a list of banned items would not be all that difficult to compile. WIC already has one.

Its administrators should forward copies to the food stamp program.



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