Koller also brought up the idea of a two-pronged approach, discouraging sweetened drinks while encouraging healthier food. Some advocates have pushed for doubling the amount of SNAP funds when people use them for purchasing healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. Thats already done at some local farmers markets in a program approved by the USDA.
Templeton agrees with that goal, but she said it might be better to focus only on sugary drinks for a test case. Limiting the scope of any waiver would seem to be a key to gaining approval. The USDAs response to New York City noted it would impact hundreds of thousands of households. A change of this significance should be tested on the smallest scale appropriate to minimize any unintended negative effects, the response noted.
New York City called for banning use of SNAP funds for any drink with more than 10 calories per eight ounces, with exceptions for 100 percent fruit juices and milk. That would have ruled out using SNAP funds to pay for most nondiet soft drinks, as well as many energy drinks and sports drinks.
The USDA also noted the challenges in getting retailers to implement the restrictions and the need to collect health data to make sure the effort is working.
South Carolina has no shortage of researchers who would get behind such a project. Templeton already has broached the subject with University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides. USC in Columbia and MUSC in Charleston have multiple ongoing obesity-related studies.
Teresa Moore, who teaches about nutrition in USCs Arnold School of Public Health, would like to see progress on the effort to slow the intake of sugary drinks. I think we should limit them, she said. They are empty calories.
But she noted its difficult to convince people to cut intake of sugary beverages when they are much less expensive than beverages that are healthier for children, such as juices and milk. Limiting use of SNAP funds for sugary beverages could change that equation for the states poor.