Discussion: (0 comments)
There are no comments available.
A public policy blog from AEI
Earlier this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) SNAP Task Force released its report to promote better health through good nutrition using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As a member of the task force, our primary focus was addressing the contradiction now present in the country’s two largest safety net programs, SNAP and Medicaid. Both programs provide resources to low-income households so that they can afford a healthy lifestyle, yet when it comes to diet quality, SNAP falls short on its goals.
Our task force developed 15 recommendations aimed at better promoting good nutrition through SNAP. Recommendations focused on prioritizing nutrition in SNAP, strengthening nutrition education in SNAP, better aligning Medicaid and SNAP, and better coordinating state and federal nutrition efforts.
One recommendation in particular — to eliminate sugary beverage purchases using SNAP — was expectedly controversial. SNAP provides $63 billion each year to low-income households to purchase food, much of which directly benefits retailers and beverage companies. It’s unsurprising that groups like the Food Marketing Institute, the National Grocer’s Association, and the American Beverage Association are opposed. Sugary beverages make up the second largest food group purchased in SNAP households, accounting for 9.3% of expenditures on food. Eliminating them from SNAP could mean billions of fewer dollars for beverage companies, as well as the grocers and marketers connected to them.
But the task force’s main concern was not the profitability of grocers and beverage companies. Instead, we focused on the purpose of SNAP, which is “to provide for improved levels of nutrition among low-income households.” We took seriously the concerns about industry disruption that might result from restricting sugary beverages, as well as concerns that they limit choice for SNAP participants. But in the end we believed that supporting the health and well-being of SNAP participants outweighed these concerns.
Sugary beverage consumption is harmful, and allowing it in the country’s main nutrition assistance program not only hurts poor people but costs the government billions in related health care costs through Medicaid.
The medical community is unequivocal on this point. As we highlighted in the report:
It is appropriate to target SSBs specifically because, while added sugars are rarely if ever conducive to good health, a growing body of research finds that SSBs have particularly pernicious effects: Unlike almost all other foods or beverages, they have no nutritional value and only cause harm to health without benefits. Per serving, SSBs are associated with greater long-term weight gain than nearly any other dietary component. Independent of weight gain, SSB consumption is also linked to diabetes and coronary heart disease. For every one to two daily servings of SSBs consumed, an individual’s lifetime risk of developing diabetes increases by 30 percent. This is concerning considering that the average number of servings of SSBs consumed by low-income adults (both SNAP participants and income-eligible nonparticipants) is almost three per day.
Restricting sugary beverages from SNAP is also needed to counteract the substantial marketing of sugary beverages that exists today. A 2012 survey of adolescents found that almost half of teens reported exposure to sugary beverage advertisements on a daily basis. Additionally, from our report:
In the United States in 2016, the food industry spent over $13.5 billion on advertising, including advertising for unhealthy items and SSBs. At least $1.8 billion of this total was spent on marketing that specifically targets children. According to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, fast food, carbonated beverages, and breakfast cereals account for 72 percent ($1.29 billion) of all youth-directed marketing expenditures. In addition, a high volume of often industry-supported conflicting messages about nutrition and food means that much of the public is confused about what to eat and has difficulty evaluating many of the terms commonly used to market foods, such as “natural” or “healthy.”
Direct marketing efforts that prop up sugary beverages and other high-sugar foods substantially overshadow SNAP’s nutrition education efforts. Eliminating sugary beverages from SNAP would complement nutrition education efforts and send perhaps the strongest possible message about proper nutrition and good health.
Almost eight years ago, as a Deputy Commissioner, I helped draft a request to restrict sugary beverages from SNAP in New York City, which was ultimately denied by the federal government. Since that time, the problem of obesity, especially among children, has gotten worse. In 2015–2016, 35.1% of all children were overweight or obese compared to 32% in 2010. To make matters worse, two out of every five 16–19 year olds fit this category in 2015–2016. Sugary beverages are a main contributor with daily calories attributed to them still 30% higher compared to 1990 among children.
Now is the time to put the health of low-income families above all other interests. SNAP may not be the entire solution, but it shouldn’t be contributing to the problem. As Congress starts to debate the Farm Bill, an honest discussion is needed about who benefits from sugary beverages in SNAP and who is harmed. Because allowing sugary beverages in SNAP does nothing to make low-income families healthier.
There are no comments available.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2018 American Enterprise Institute