Should the Government Force Food-Stamp Users to Eat Better?

New research shows that a soda ban would reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: Lori Middleton drinks a large soda on October 17, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. New York's Court of Appeal has agreed to hear New York City's appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign to stop fast food restaurants from selling super-sized, sugary drinks. In a recent ruling, which dealt a blow to the campaign to improve the health of New Yorkers, the lower court said the city Board of Health exceeded its authority by putting a 16-ounce size limit on high-calorie sodas and soft drinks. 
National Journal
Clara Ritger
See more stories about...
Clara Ritger
June 2, 2014, 12:05 p.m.

Food-stamp users would be much health­i­er if they were for­bid­den to spend fed­er­al dol­lars on soda, but sub­sid­iz­ing part of the cost of their fruits and ve­get­ables would not have a sig­ni­fic­ant im­pact on obesity and dia­betes, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from Stan­ford Uni­versity.

The Stan­ford re­search­ers are the first to eval­u­ate the im­pact these gov­ern­ment ac­tions would have on the 46 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans who par­ti­cip­ate in the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, known as SNAP. Pub­lic health of­fi­cials are search­ing for ways to im­prove the nu­tri­tion of SNAP par­ti­cipants, who have high­er rates of obesity and type 2 dia­betes than Amer­ic­ans of the same in­come level who aren’t in the pro­gram.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, “SNAP par­ti­cipants con­sume al­most twice as many cal­or­ies from sug­ar-sweetened bever­ages as they do from ve­get­ables and fruit.” There’s a grow­ing body of evid­ence that li­quid cal­or­ies can do more dam­age to the body than reg­u­lar junk food, and Basu said that’s a key reas­on why ban­ning the pur­chase of sug­ar-sweetened bever­ages would have a sig­ni­fic­ant im­pact on the health of SNAP users.

“We ob­served that the re­stric­tion from pur­chas­ing sug­ary bever­ages could pre­vent 400,000 cases of obesity and 250,000 cases of type 2 dia­betes over the next dec­ade,” said lead re­search­er San­jay Basu, an as­sist­ant pro­fess­or of medi­cine at Stan­ford Uni­versity.

Mean­while, giv­ing SNAP par­ti­cipants 30 cents back for every dol­lar they spend on fruits and ve­get­ables is not ex­pec­ted to have any im­pact on obesity and dia­betes rates. But Basu said their study found that the sub­sidy could still double the num­ber of SNAP par­ti­cipants who meet the nu­tri­tion­al guidelines for fruit and ve­get­able in­take, en­sur­ing that they are eat­ing the re­com­men­ded vit­am­ins and nu­tri­ents, a not­able health im­prove­ment among the pop­u­la­tion. This pro­duce pro­gram is already be­ing tested in a pi­lot pro­ject at the U.S. De­part­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture.

While the find­ings are im­port­ant con­sid­er­a­tions for poli­cy­makers look­ing to im­prove the SNAP pro­gram, they’re not likely to be im­ple­men­ted any time soon. Just this year Con­gress cut $8.7 bil­lion from the pro­gram in the farm bill.

Basu says im­ple­ment­a­tion isn’t the next step any­way.

“We need to have USDA au­thor­iz­a­tion to do a pi­lot study,” Basu said. “Be­fore we change any­thing for 46 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans, we need to do a ran­dom­ized tri­al to see if this has the ex­pec­ted be­ne­fit.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4974) }}

What We're Following See More »
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.