The federal government has denied Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban food stamps from being used for sugar-sweetened drinks.
The obesity-fighting plan was floated last October by Bloomberg and then-Gov. David Paterson.
Bloomberg and Paterson sought permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the nation's food stamp program, to add sugary drinks to the list of prohibited goods for city residents receiving assistance.
If approved, it would have been the first time an item was banned from the federal program based solely on nutritional value.
On Friday, the Bloomberg administration said the USDA denied the request. Bloomberg said in a statement that it 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 this country."
"We're disappointed the federal government didn't agree," he said.
The idea had been suggested previously, including in 2008 in Maine, where it drew criticism from advocates for the poor who argued it unfairly singled out low-income people and risked scaring off potential needy recipients.
And in 2004 the USDA rejected Minnesota's plan to ban junk food, including soda and candy, from food stamp purchases, saying it would violate the Food Stamp Act's definition of what is food and could create "confusion and embarrassment" at the register.
The food stamp system, which was launched in the 1960s, serves some 40 million Americans a month and does not currently restrict any other foods based on nutrition. Recipients can essentially buy any food for the household, although there are some limits on hot or prepared foods.
Food stamps also cannot be used to buy alcohol, cigarettes or items such as pet food, vitamins or household goods.
The city and state proposal would have been temporary, so officials could have studied its effects over two years. It would have applied only to food stamp recipients in New York City — 1.7 million of the city's more than 8 million residents.
In fiscal year 2009, New Yorkers received $2.7 billion in food stamp benefits and spent $75 million to $135 million of that on sugary drinks, the city said.
The ban would have applied to any beverage with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces, except for milk products, milk substitutes like soy milk and rice milk, and fruit juices without added sugar.
A 20-ounce sugar-sweetened drink can contain as many as 16 packets of sugar.
There are many unhealthful products New Yorkers could purchase with food stamps, including potato chips, ice cream and candy. But officials said the proposal targeted sugary drinks because they are the largest contributor to obesity.