Prohibiting the use of federal food stamps to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages and subsidizing the purchase of fruits and vegetables with food stamps would improve nutrition, foster weight loss and drive down rates of Type 2 diabetes among the program's 47.6 million recipients, according to a new study.
In so doing, the $79.8 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) might also reap taxpayers untold future savings for the federally funded care of diabetes and other obesity-related problems among Medicaid recipients.
However, the benefits of making such changes to the program more commonly known as food stamps would be small and might take a decade to see, says a group of medical and health economics researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.
In the study, which was published this week in the journal Health Affairs, the researchers tapped into existing databases to create a model of food purchasing, food consumption and purchasing choices and trade-offs by SNAP recipients.
They then looked at how those factors would change under two conditions: a rule that would prohibit the use of food stamps to buy sugar-sweetened beverages and a program that would remit 30 percent of the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables back into recipients' accounts, essentially subsidizing their produce purchases.
With a ban on the purchase of sweetened drinks with food stamps, recipients' average net caloric intake would decline by 11.4 calories per day, the authors calculated. Over 10 years, the average food stamp recipient's weight would decline by 1.15 pounds as a result, and roughly 422,000 people would not become obese.