Sugar-sweetened beverages are a target for reduction in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Concerns have been raised about sugar-sweetened beverages purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
This paper describes purchases of non-alcoholic refreshment beverages among participants in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and SNAP.
Grocery store scanner data from a regional supermarket chain were used to assess refreshment beverage purchases of 39,172 households in January-June 2011. The sample consisted of families with a history of WIC participation in 2009-2011; about half also participated in SNAP. Beverage spending and volume purchased were compared for WIC sampled households either using SNAP benefits (SNAP) or not (WIC-only). Analyses were completed in 2012.
Refreshment beverages were a significant contributor to expenditure on groceries by SNAP and WIC households. Sugar-sweetened beverages accounted for 58% of refreshment beverage purchases made by SNAP households and 48% of purchases by WIC-only households. Soft drinks were purchased most by all households. Fruit-based beverages were mainly 100% juice for WIC-only households and sugary fruit drinks for SNAP households. SNAP benefits paid for 72% of the sugar-sweetened beverage purchases made by SNAP households. Nationwide, SNAP was estimated to pay at least $1.7 to $2.1 billion annually for sugar-sweetened beverages purchased in grocery stores.
Considerable amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages are purchased by households participating in WIC and SNAP. The SNAP program pays for most of the sugar-sweetened beverage purchases among SNAP households. The upcoming SNAP reauthorization could be a good time to reconsider the program priorities to align public funds with public health.