NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City will issue 1,000 new permits for mobile fruit and vegetable stands in its latest drive against obesity and unhealthiness among its residents.
The City Council voted on Wednesday to issue the new permits for low-income neighborhoods, saying a scarcity of fresh produce has led to high rates of obesity and other health problems.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said underserved New Yorkers would have better access to fresh produce as early as this spring.
"The communities in our city where obesity and diabetes continues to skyrocket are the same communities that lack even the most basic access to fresh fruits and vegetables," Quinn said.
The United States' biggest city has taken the lead on pushing for healthier habits. It banned artery-clogging trans-fats from city restaurants in 2006, outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003, and will soon force fast-food chains to display calorie counts on their menu boards.
There are more than 4,000 permits for so-called green carts in New York and the stands are a common sight in wealthy Manhattan.
But low-income New Yorkers are left with little choice but to buy unhealthy "convenience" foods, most of which are packaged and processed, supporters of the bill said.
Councilman John Liu said the bill was bad policy.
"If people wanted this produce, the stores would be selling them and there would be vending carts on the street," he said.
The bill had been scaled back after supermarket and store owners voiced opposition.
More than half of New York adults are overweight or obese and an estimated 700,000 New Yorkers suffer from diabetes, the health department said.
While the rate of obesity is below 15 percent in much of Manhattan, rates in less affluent neighborhoods, including Harlem, South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, are over 27 percent.
Reporting by Edith Honan, editing by Michelle Nichols and Stuart Grudgings