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Food-Assistance Program Sees $2 Billion Spent on Sweet Drinks: Study

MONDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to its goal of promoting good nutrition, a U.S. food-assistance program spends billions of dollars each year on unhealthy, sugar-sweetened drinks, according to a new study.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as Food Stamps -- pays at least $2 billion for sugary drinks bought in grocery stores alone, say researchers from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. That amount doesn't include sweet drinks bought at other retail chains such as Wal-Mart.

"SNAP benefits are critically important in helping low-income families put food on the table, and in this economy, many American families could not feed their children without the federal food assistance provided by SNAP," said study lead author Tatiana Andreyeva, Rudd's director of economic initiatives, in a Yale news release.

"At the same time, the annual use of billions of dollars in SNAP benefits to purchase products at the core of public health concerns about obesity and chronic illnesses is misaligned with the goal of helping economically vulnerable families live active, healthy lives," Andreyeva said.

In conducting the study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the researchers collected data from a regional supermarket chain. They also examined beverage choices made by families participating in federal nutrition assistance programs.

The study revealed 58 percent of all beverages purchased by SNAP participants were sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sugary soda, fruit drinks and sports drinks. The researchers pointed out that SNAP paid for 72 percent of these purchases.

"Anti-hunger and public health advocates should work together to ensure that all government food assistance programs are implemented in a way that is consistent with helping Americans meet government dietary recommendations," Andreyeva concluded.

In the United States, about two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Studies have linked sweet drinks with poor diets, weight gain, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on the harmful effects of sugary drinks.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Sept. 17, 2012

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