A recent study determined that the US government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) subsidizes a minimum of $2 billion per year for low-income Americans to purchase sugar-sweetened drinks that are bought in grocery stores. These drinks provide no nutritional value and can lead to obesity.
The study, which was published by the Rudd Center in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, most likely presented a conservative estimate on such spending, because it excluded sugar-sweetened SNAP purchases from many other types of retail stores, including convenience stores and Walmart.
This study indicates the real possibility that the federal government is paying billions in benefits to help at-need family purchase purchase food products that are not healthy and potentially lead to obesity.
The research determined that 58% of beverages that are purchased by SNAP users were for beverages with sugar, including soda, fruit drinks and sports drinks. The research found that SNAP paid for a whopping 72% of such purchases.
Of course, it is recognized that SNAP benefits are important to help low income families provide food for their families; in the current economy, many Americans would be unable to feed their families without federal food aid, such as SNAP assistance.
However, it is questionable to use federal food aid in the billions of dollars to help poor families purchase food that are at the center of modern health concerns about obesity and chronic illnesses. It seems that public health and anti-hunger advocates should work as one to make sure that all government assistance food programs are done in such a way that helps all Americans to meet minimum government dietary recommendations.
This point is amplified, when one considers that we do not allow SNAP to be used to buy cigarettes or alcohol. This is because the health risks for both items are very well known. However, we also know that there are severe health risks to being obese, including diabetes and heart disease.
Some public health experts believe that cities and states should examine how they use money in the SNAP program. They should consider whether the program can be changed to improve public health and diets in at-need communities.
Additional Discussion on SNAP