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Food Stamp Soda Study Says Ban Would Reduce Diabetes, Obesity

By Clyde Hughes   |   Monday, 09 Jun 2014 08:57 AM

Researchers at Sanford University are calling on the federal government to ban the purchase of sugar-sweetened drinks through food stamps, saying a study shows such an effort could lead to a reduction of type-2 diabetes and obesity.

The researchers said their study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in connection with its Healthy Eating Research program, created a simulation of such a ban and found that it could lead to at least 1.12 percent fewer adults and 0.41 percent fewer children becoming obese, according to a Stanford news release.

The researchers said the simulation numbers represent about 281,000 adults and 141,000 children. The scientists added that they believe the diagnosis of adults with type-2 diabetes would decline by 2.3 percent with such a ban.

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"I feel this paper even underplays the significant effect of changing the (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits to ban sugar-sweetened beverages, as this would not affect all participants equally and would truly impact heavy consumers, who tend to be more obese and more likely to be diabetic," Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said in the news release.

The research, which was published in the June issue of Health Affairs, simulated giving a 30-cent reward to food stamp participants for each dollar they spent on fruits and vegetables. The simulation's estimates equaled the findings of a pilot program conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Massachusetts.

The simulation tested the scientists' model against real results from the USDA program and predicted the effects of a similar program nationally.

"Restricting or removing the subsidy that SNAP provides for sugar-sweetened beverages would be very likely to reduce type-2 diabetes and obesity among low-income Americans," said Sanjay Basu, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

The challenge for researchers is that purchase of sodas by people on the program has proven to be huge business for the beverage industry. A study done by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity in 2012 revealed that SNAP participants paid at least $2 billion yearly for sugar-sweetened beverages in grocery stores alone.

Researchers said in the Stanford news release that they expect that beverage lobbying groups to push back against their findings.

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