Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SNAP and sugary drinks - more to the story

The New York Times recently reported on a new USDA study of SNAP participants’ food buying patterns. The findings show that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which accounted for 5% of the dollars they spent on food.  While the report suggests that a disproportionate amount of SNAP money is going toward unhealthful foods, the USDA said it was unfair to single out food stamp recipients for their soft drink consumption. SNAP households spent 9.3% of their grocery budgets on sweetened beverages. That was slightly higher than the 7.1% figure for households that do not receive food stamps. While food stamp users bought slightly more junk food and fewer vegetables, both SNAP and non-SNAP households bought a lot of sweetened drinks, candy, ice cream, and potato chips. Across all households, the report found, “more money was spent on soft drinks than any other item.” Overall, the report found, SNAP households spent about 40 cents of every dollar on “basic items” like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread. They spent another 40 cents on “cereal, prepared foods, dairy products, rice, and beans.” The remaining 20 cents of each dollar was spent on a broad array of junk foods that included “sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.”

Some conservative thinkers believe SNAP funds, like other federal food assistance programs, should be used only for purchasing healthy foods, citing the nutrition standards in the School Meals programs. Liberals emphasize the similarities in purchasing patterns between SNAP and non-SNAP households, note that many sugary drinks are fruit juices, and wonder why conservatives find the “nanny state” approach acceptable for low-income households.

Sources: NYT, 1/13/17, SNAP $ for Soda? ; American Enterprise Institute, 1/18/17, Limit SNAP Use ; Talk Poverty, 1/16/17, Let SNAP Buyers Buy