The Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI) has released SNAP Decisions, a new study assessing the intended and unintended health impacts of a proposed Illinois ban on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. Various forms of the ban on SSBs, which include soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened tea and coffee drinks, and fruit drinks, have been introduced into the Illinois General Assembly in the last few years.
Using a process called Health Impact Assessment (HIA), IPHI considered a range of possible health effects of the proposed policy, and found that a ban by itself may not achieve the nutrition goals its sponsors seek. This is because most SNAP participants use a mix of cash and SNAP benefits for groceries, and many would simply switch how they pay for the beverages. With incentive initiatives that provide additional resources to purchase healthier options showing promise in other states, the team found that SNAP participants in Illinois might be more likely to reduce their purchases of SSBs in a voluntary program that includes restrictions on SSB purchases, incentives to purchase healthy items like fresh fruits and vegetables, and a strong nutrition education program.
Excess SSB consumption is a society-wide problem, and the study identified potential health harms (such as stigma-related stress) that might result from a policy that singles out low-income people. In response, the assessment recommends that policy-makers consider focusing their attention on policies that have more universal application, such as improving school and community beverage environments and imposing a tax on SSBs.
The SNAP Decisions HIA was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.