Ban the Purchase of Soft Drinks with Food Stamps

Free soda at Microsoft

Target: Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Goal: Stop allowing the purchase of soft drinks with food stamps and start promoting healthy foods

The federal government spends as much as $2 billion annually on sugar-sweetened beverages purchased through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. There is also data to suggest that low-income people drink soda at higher rates than the general population. The American Medical Association recently declared obesity as an illness. Considering all this data, the USDA should ban soft drinks from SNAP, just like tobacco and alcohol.

It is widely known that soda pop is one of the leading causes of obesity in America. Now, one out of three adults suffers from this ailment, making it an urgent public health crisis in the country. Coca Cola does not supply the body with any useful nutrients, instead filling it with empty calories. The federal government recognizes this in other programs that it administers. The Women, Infants and Children program provides new mothers with up to $100 per month to spend on nutritious foods, such as whole wheat bread, milk, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables. The federal government has also reformed what is served at public schools, day care and senior centers, over objections and challenges from the industry. There is an active campaign to rid public schools from soft drinks.

A 2012 study conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, showed that more than half of the beverages purchased through SNAP were carbonated soft drinks. Through SNAP, a family of four can receive as much as $668 a month. Marlene Schwartz, Rudd Center’s director, lamented that the program still allows people to purchase soft drinks: “The government regulates every single other food program is has. I can’t figure out how SNAP has escaped that all these years.”

In addition to banning soft drinks from SNAP, the government should offer a carrot to incentivize healthy eating. Such a program, called Fresh Bucks, exists in Seattle. It doubles the value of produce purchases made with SNAP electronic benefits cards (EBT) at all local farmers markets. EBT users receive $10 in Fresh Bucks per day for the purchase of fruits and vegetables when they purchase a minimum of $10 with their EBT card. This program has been so successful last year that the local government expanded it in 2013. In 2012, $55,000 invested in Fresh Bucks generated $125,300 in local stimulus. The program is a win-win for public health and the economy.

To urge Tom Vilsack to ban sugary sodas from SNAP and instead encourage healthy eating through the program, sign below.


Dear Secretary Vilsack,

Recently, the American Medical Association classified obesity as an illness. This ailment targets one in three Americans, making it a public health crisis. It is the government’s job to make sure that people on public assistance use their benefits to buy nutritious, wholesome food. SNAP currently allows people to purchase soft drinks, one of the leading causes of obesity in the country.

School lunches, meals at day care and senior centers have been reformed by the USDA to meet healthy standards. The WIC program, that helps new mothers with food assistance, has strict guidelines that exclude carbonated drinks. Yet, SNAP still allows people to buy soda. In fact, the federal government spends $2 billion annually to support the industry.

The USDA should be promoting healthy living, like Seattle has with its Fresh Bucks program. EBT users receive $10 per day for the purchase of fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets, providing local stimulus. This program is a win-win for public health and the economy. Please consider banning soft drinks from SNAP and promote healthful food.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Rex Sorgatz via Flickr

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