The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has rejected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) plan to prohibit residents from using food stamps to buy sugar-sweetened beverages and soda. In October 2010, Bloomberg and state officials had proposed a two-year experiment that would exclude the drinks from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in an effort to reduce obesity.

In an August 19, 2011, letter to a state official, SNAP’s associate administrator Jessica Shahin wrote that the waiver was denied because of concerns that the “scale and scope” of the plan were “too large and complex” to implement and evaluate. Asserting that it would be too difficult to assess the ban’s effectiveness, Shahin instead suggested that USDA collaborate with the city on “anti-obesity intervention targeting consumption and associated behaviors while encouraging healthy choices.”

Expressing disappointment with the decision, Bloomberg said, “We think our innovative pilot would have done more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything being proposed anywhere else in the country—and at little or no costs to taxpayers. New York City will continue to pursue new and unconventional ways to combat the health problems that affect New Yorkers and all Americans.” See New York City Mayor Bloomberg Press Release, August 19, 2011.