Food stamps are a last resort for millions of low income families across America who struggle to put food on the table.
So it may come as a surprise that the top purchase made by food stamps is not food at all; it’s soda.
Soda accounts for five percent of every dollar spent in stamps while a whopping 20 percent is spent on junk food that includes ‘sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar’.
The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the $74 billion food stamp program SNAP, found that dairy and processed foods were among the top purchases, the New York Times reports.
Ten cents in every dollar were spent on sweetened beverages which also include juices and energy drinks. With an average family on food stamps receiving around $256, that could mean they could buy 50 cans of soda every month.
While healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds were lower down on the list.
The report also noted that families on food stamps typically bought more junk food than those paying for groceries themselves.
For example, among people not on food stamps, milk was the top purchase, followed by soft drinks in second.
Many health experts have pointed to the findings as one of the causes of America’s burgeoning obesity crisis.
They are now demanding more restrictions on food stamp purchases, so that tax payer dollars are no longer paying for unhealthy food and drinks.
David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that other government programs such as the national school lunch program have strict nutrition standards, so there was no reason they couldn’t be implemented for SNAP.
‘No one is suggesting poor people can’t choose what they want to eat,’ he said. ‘But we’re saying let’s not use government benefits to pay for foods that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.’
He added that recent evidence had highlighted sugary drinks as one of the most harmful types of unhealthy food, yet soda ‘tops the list of reimbursed products in SNAP.’
Around 23 million households receive around $256 in food stamps every month.
Several states have been fighting to restrict sugary drinks and junk food from food stamps.
WHAT ARE FOOD STAMPS SPENT ON BY THE DOLLAR?
- 5 cents on soda
- 15 cents on junk food and sweetened drinks excluding soda
- 40 cents of basics such as milk, cheese, and meat
- 40 cents on cereals and other grains such as, rice, beans and prepared foods
Maine, Minnesota and New York City have all requested to remove the items but were denied by USDA.
The agency said it would consider granting permission for a state or citywide restriction on condition it conducted ‘a rigorous pilot study’ and also offered food stamp recipients the ability to opt out of the soda restrictions.
‘We’d want rigorous evaluation to see what is the impact of such a policy,’ he said.
The candy and beverage industries, inlcuding PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods, have previously banded together to oppose restrictions on food stamps.
The government has tried to promote healthier options on food stamps by incentivizing fruits and vegetables.
But a 2014 study by Stanford researchers found that the incentive program would not significantly affect obesity rates, while banning sugary drinks from SNAP ‘would be expected to significantly reduce obesity prevalence and Type 2 diabetes incidence, particularly among ages 18 to 65 and some racial and ethnic minorities.’
The report was based on data from a nationwide grocery chain on items bought in 2011.
Source: Daily Mail