Study: Banning sugary drinks from SNAP would reduce obesity and Type 2 diabetes; subsidy would boost fruit consumption

A measure preventing people from purchasing sugar-sweetened beverages through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, would significantly reduce obesity and Type 2 diabetes in adults under 65, and adding a subsidy for fruits and vegetables would more than double the number of SNAP participants who meet federal vegetable and fruit consumption guidelines, says a new study published in Health Affairs.

Research has shown that people on food stamps suffer diabetes, heart disease and obesity at higher rates than people who are in the same tax bracket but not on food stamps, Diane Jeanty reports for PBS Newshour. In 2013, these findings prompted 18 mayors from major U.S. cities to write to Congress with a push to ban the use of food stamps to purchase sugar sweetened beverages.

The American Beverage Association pushed back, saying “sugared beverages were being targeted and were not the only causes for obesity,” Jeanty writes.

A research team led by Dr. Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, conducted the study to determine how banning sugared beverages could affect the SNAP population’s level of risk for these diseases, Jeanty reports. They used a survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control, which assesses the nutritional status of adults and children, and combined it with current information on SNAP.

The study had two models, one that banned sugary beverages—excluding 100 percent fruit juice—and another that offered an incentive for SNAP participants to receive a 30 cent credit for each dollar spent on fruit and vegetable purchases. The study factored in metabolism rates and demographics such as race, age, gender and income to test the effects of the proposed measures, Jeanty reports.

They found that with a simulated ban, a person would reduce his or her calorie intake by 24 per day. They also found that obesity rates decreased 2.4 percent and type 2 Diabetes rates dropped 1.7 percent—or 240,000 people—Jeanty reports. The simulated subsidy, did not, however, have a significant impact on overall diabetes and obesity.

The study also found that by adding a simulated subsidy on fruits and vegetables, SNAP participants increased their consumption from 1/4 cup to 3 cups per day. However, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed is not enough to influence the reduction of diabetes and obesity on a national scale, according to Basu. “There would also have to be further reforms to also reduce the consumption of sugary beverages,” Basu told Jeanty.

The Illinois Public Health Institute, addressing a proposed ban in Illinois, found that SNAP participants would still purchase sugared beverages with their own money, even if they were banned, Jeanty reports. But Basu says that his study accounted for this consideration. Basu said it is time to perform a controlled study instead of a simulation model, Jeanty writes.

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