Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Soda, SNAP, and Policy

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamps program, was started in 1961 and was made permanent in 1964 with the goal of providing improved levels of nutrition to low-income households.  Almost 50 years later some 40 million individuals participate in the program but the nutritional state of this country is drastically different than it was in 1961.  While hunger still plagues individuals in the U.S., malnutrition due to overeating has been an increasingly larger problem.  This has led many, including Dr. Kelly Brownell, to question the role of SNAP in meeting its goals of improving levels of nutrition for all who participate. 

In August, the USDA denied a request from the state of New York to conduct a pilot program that would have allowed the elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages from SNAP in its state.  In a recent JAMA article, Dr. Brownell outlines the USDA's concerns for denying the proposal and argues that keeping sugar-sweetened beverages in the program only leads to an increase in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  If the USDA already denies non-essential items including those with adverse health effects (alcohol and tobacco) then it would seem logical to deny food items that offer no nutritional value to its participants.  Dr. Brownell also urges the USDA to fund research to generate the needed data to inform policy decisions when denying future pilot programs.

While the AMA does not have specific recommendations on the most recent decision denying the New York proposal, H-150.936 and H-150.937 from AMA policy clearly support the use of evidence based nutrition and reduced calorie-dense, nutrition-poor foods.  Dr. Brownell's article illustrates the need for the AMA and other professional healthcare organizations to become active in shaping nutrition policy by adopting a stance that supports optimal nutrition in government programs.  

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