Study: Food stamps purchase up to $2.1B of sugary drinks annually

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While obesity is on the rise and governments are attempting to limit consumption of sugary beverages, a new study suggests that between $1.7 billion and $2.1 billion worth of food stamps are used to purchase sugary drinks annually.

The researchers at Yale University who conducted the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and detailed by the Los Angeles Times, suggest that while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp program, is important, “allowing annual use of multibillions of SNAP benefits to purchase products that are at the core of public health concerns about obesity and chronic illnesses appears misaligned with the goals of helping low-income families live active, healthy lives.”

The authors add that the reauthorization of SNAP — contained in the farm bill currently pending in the House — might be a reasonable time to consider ways to ameliorate the disconnect.

The researchers came to their multibillion dollar figures by extrapolating from the data they collected from 39,172 households participating in the Women, Infants and Children federal food program (WIC) and SNAP in New England from January 2011 – June 2011.

Of those households participating in SNAP, 58 percent of the “refreshment beverages” they purchased, with SNAP dollars, were of the sugar-sweetened variety.

The authors note that their extrapolated figures for the entire country — $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion — are likely an underestimate because New Englanders tend to drink fewer sugary drinks than people in other regions. The time period studied also did not include summer, when soda consumption likely increases, the Los Angeles Times points out.

The number of Americans on food stamps reached an all-time high in June at 46.7 million. More than one in three American adults are considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control.

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