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Study shows banning soda purchases using food stamps would reduce obesity and type-2 diabetes

Study shows banning soda purchases using food stamps would reduce obesity and type-2 diabetes


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, carbonated beverages such as Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper and 7UP were sold as nerve tonics and health drinks. But, we now know that sugary sodas contribute to obesity, type-2 diabetes and cavities. Still, most Americans drink more soda than they like to admit.

Even though sugar-laden soft drinks have no nutritional value, they are still eligible for food stamps. Nutrition researchers and some politicians have advocated for a ban on buying sugar-sweetened drinks with food stamps but the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, is under tremendous pressure from beverage company lobbyists to keep the existing regulations.

Sugary drinks are especially concerning because too many liquid calories put consumers at a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Some nutrition experts are concerned that taxpayers are subsidizing an unhealthy diet, which will result in higher medical costs for Medicare and Medicaid down the road, when food stamp recipients experience the health problems associated with obesity and diabetes.

In a new study (subscription required) published in this month’s Health Affairs, Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, and his colleagues created a computer model to simulate the effects of a soda ban on the health of food stamp recipients. They found that obesity would drop by 1.12 percent for adults, and by 0.41 percent for children, affecting about 281,000 adults and 141,000 children. Type-2 diabetes would also drop by 2.3 percent.

The researchers also calculated the effects of reimbursing participants 30-cents for each dollar spent on fruits and vegetables. The subsidy did not affect obesity or diabetes rates, but doubled the number of people who ate the recommended number of fruits and vegetables each day. A county in Massachusetts tried the same reimbursement system as part of the USDA’s Healthy Incentives pilot study, and saw a similar increase in the fruit and vegetable purchases of food stamp recipients.

“It’s really hard to get people to eat their broccoli,” said Basu in a press release. “You have to make it really cheap, and even then, sometimes people don’t know what to do with it.” But, with one in seven Americans receiving food stamps, he points out that these small changes can have wide-ranging effects.

“It’s very rare that we can reach that many people with one policy change and just one program.”

Patricia Waldron is a science writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs.

Previously: Food stamps and sodas: Stanford pediatrician weighs inCan food stamps help lighten America’s obesity epidemic? and Stanford’s Sanjay Basu named a Top Global Thinker of 2013
Photo by Andy Schultz

7 Responses to “ Study shows banning soda purchases using food stamps would reduce obesity and type-2 diabetes ”

  1. American Beverage Association, ABA Comms Says:

    Education – rather than regulation – is a more effective means of encouraging SNAP participants to adopt healthier habits. The USDA emphasized this point when it said of SNAP: “’incentives – rather than restrictions – that encourage purchases of certain foods or expanded nutrition education to enable participants to make healthy choices are more practical options and likely to be more effective in achieving the dietary improvements that promote good health.” We agree. Restricting soft drinks won’t reduce obesity and diabetes. However, a holistic approach that fosters greater awareness of a sensible diet combined with physical activity can enhance the health of Americans.
    -American Beverage Association

  2. Paul Says:


    Thank you for saying this “‘incentives- rather than restrictions- that encourage purchases of certain foods or expanded nutrition education to enable participants to make healthy choices are more practical options and likely to be more effective in achieving the dietary improvements that promote good health.’ We agree.”

    I am glad that the realization that you now see that economic incentives are the answer. Paying people to eat broccoli = more broccoli to be eaten. I am bandwagoning, but wide ranging studies have shown that this is the case, time and time again.

    I understand that by default humans are hardwired to eat amazing sweat and salty things because they are generally more calorically dense than other foods. I am guilty of that. Honestly, eating pie is waaay more fun than snacking on a carrot, but I can’t eat pie every day all day. I’ll eventually become a diabetic. Pie will kill me.

    So how do you follow your suggestion of incentivizing behavior? Simple, a soda tax. It has been shown to be detrimental for tobacco consumption. It will work for sugar derived drinks.

    A soda tax will create a lower cost option that consumers would likely choose. This choice likely entails bottled waters, and low calorie drinks, which by being in the bottling industry, you will continue to profit from.

    So stop pushing education while you spend money marketing and lobbying for Coke and Pepsi at the same time; embrace the change. Let your consumers live longer lives.

    I am not affiliated with Stanford nor the ABA. I couldn’t resist commenting was too obvious. Thanks Google for landing me on the this page.

  3. TonyT Says:

    Why pick on the food stamp people? I’m sure there’s far more people who aren’t using food stamps getting diabetes. How about punish them with draconian laws for drinking Pepsi? Get lost control freaks… go bark orders at your spouse or children, don’t bother others with your character flaw.

  4. Matt Says:

    The idea of “banning” something is NEVER a way to solve problems…especially when it comes to human behavior. Nothing is learned when you ban something, it’s like getting rid of your stove when you have a baby rather than educating the baby that “fire hurts”. I have to agree with the ABA’s comment. Also, remember than in those 1800s and early 1900s soft drinks, HFCS was not being used. The highly concentrated HFCS is in large part to why soda is so high in sugar and empty calories.

  5. Pump Prada Says:

    All the education in the world will not keep stupid people from doing stupid things. People still smoke and people still eat way more meat than vegetables and people still drink alcohol. You do not need 24/7 inundating information to know sugar is bad.

    You really want to cut sugar consumption? Make laws that keep the food industry from putting umpteen different types of sugar in food that does not naturally have any.

    Education is great and it helps intelligent people make informed decisions. Industry regulation gives people more decisions when used to keep businesses from maintaining harmful practices.

    I have been on food stamps before. In my state they already do not allow anything but food to be purchased and they only work in grocery stores, not at fast food restaurants. I am absolutely in favor of this being nationwide.

    There are far better solutions than food stamps. That is what we have right now and we need to make it work for those people who do not dictate their own lives, namely children.

    Also, yes I consider it child abuse to let your kid get so fat they can not run an entire mile.

  6. Skeeter Says:

    Im sorry guys, but I think banning some foods from food stamps is a Great Idea!!! Ive been saying this for years. This is MY money that is paying for all these government programs. I have never been able to get the help when I seriously needed it but I wouldn’t of spent the money on soda or snacks I did not need. And what about Lobster?? Why can you get such a high priced seafood with food stamps?? It takes me over 3 years to save up to get a nice lobster dinner? and I see people with fancy clothes and new cars buying lobsters with food stamps. whats up with that? So in a nut shell I AGREE that some foods should be banned!! Too many people are using the system and those who really need it, don’t.

  7. rubypearl Says:

    interesting, one in seven AMERICANS are on food stamps.. does that indicate illegal but resident minors are not included in that and other calculations?


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