Food Stamp Recipients Spend 20 Percent Of Their Allowance On Junk Foods, $608 Million Spent On Soda Alone, USDA Says

The USDA released somewhat startling data regarding the purchases made by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, recipients. The study found that 20 percent of SNAP benefits were being used to purchase “junk foods” which include “sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar.” The most popular junk item purchased with food stamps benefits was soda pop accounting for 5 percent of all food stamps transactions. Now many health organizations and states are asking for soda pop and junk foods to be restricted for recipients while soda manufacturers have banded together to oppose such restrictions.

The USDA report outlines exactly what is most likely in the carts of families who utilize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Prior to this report, it was really unknown what individuals were purchasing with the program that has few guidelines outside of items needing to carry a nutritional label instead of a supplement label. However, the study has offered a rare look into the shopping carts of millions and showcased what many believe to be an underlying problem with obesity in America.

Soda most common SNAP purchase
USDA study found that 5 percent of SNAP purchases were spent on soda pop. [Image by FabrikaSimf/ Shutterstock]

The report found that while the most money was spent on meat, poultry, and fish, the second biggest ticket item was soda pop. Soda accounted for 5 percent of total expenditures costing $608 million in SNAP charges. The New York Times reports that many feel that such a large chunk of money going to one industry is tantamount to a government subsidy and should be restricted.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, called the findings “shocking” claiming that we should consider the implications of the study as a whole.

“In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry.”

The controversy over food stamp restrictions is not new. In fact, cities, states, medical groups, and nonprofit organizations have asked for the USDA to help improve the health of the 43 million poorest Americans in the country by restricting the purchase of junk foods with SNAP benefits. Despite the pleas, the USDA has long held the position that banning certain foods would be “unfair” to food stamps users and that it would cause too much red tapes for families that just need help with food purchases.

David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, says he disagrees with the USDA claims noting that no one would suggest that people on food stamps shouldn’t be able to choose the foods they want to eat. However, he says something must be done about products that “undermine public health.”

“No one is suggesting poor people can’t choose what they want to eat. But we’re saying let’s not use government benefits to pay for foods that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.”

It should come as no surprise that the soda and candy industry are heavily opposing any restrictions on food stamp purchases when it comes to nutritionally controversial food items. In fact, the candy and beverage industries have banded together on the cause opposing any regulations that would restrict food purchase access to SNAP users.

While food stamp users do use a substantial amount of benefits on soda, Kevin Concannon, the U.S.D.A. under secretary for food, points out that soda consumption is high among those not on food stamps as well.

“Sweetened beverages are a common purchase in all households across America. This report raises a question for all households: Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?”

So where do food stamps users stand in comparison to non-food stamps households in soda consumption? The study found that food stamps households purchased soda pop as the second most commonly purchased item just below meat and poultry, whereas, non-food stamp households placed soda pop fifth on the list behind meat, vegetables, cheese, and fruits.

Do you think SNAP recipients should be restricted regarding the purchase of “junk food” items or will it cause too much red tapes for families in need? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Featured Image by Thana Thanadechakul/ Shutterstock]