Banning the purchase of sugar-sweetened drinks with food stamps could reduce obesity rates and new cases of type-2 diabetes, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is under pressure from medical groups and nutrition experts to ban the use of its credits to purchase sugary beverages, such as soda and energy drinks. But the beverage industry fights such restrictions to the program, which in 2013 served 20 percent of American households — the highest percentage since the program began in 1969.
Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, and his colleagues used computerized simulations to estimate the ban’s effect. “Restricting or removing the subsidy that SNAP provides for sugar-sweetened beverages would be very likely to reduce type-2 diabetes and obesity among low-income Americans,” said Basu, the lead author of the study.
The study was published in the June issue of Health Affairs. Jay Bhattacharya, an associate professor of medicine and an economist at Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, was the senior author.
The researchers also simulated giving a 30-cent reward to food stamp participants for each dollar they spent on fruits and vegetables. The simulation’s estimates matched the results of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Incentives pilot study, which was conducted in a single county in Massachusetts. The reward program would be expected to double the number of people who met the daily recommendation for servings of fruits and vegetables. The simulation allowed the researchers to check their model against real results, and to predict the effects of the Healthy Incentives program nationwide.
“This is a rigorous and well-conducted study,” said David Stuckler, PhD, a senior research leader in sociology at Oxford University, in an email. “It reminds us of the critical importance of addressing the root financial causes of rising obesity and diabetes in the United States.” (Stuckler, who studies social and economic determinants of health, was not involved in the research.)