Florida May Ban Purchasing Of Soda With Food Stamps

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Legislators in Florida will consider a proposal that would ban the use of food stamps to purchase soft drinks.

A bill was filed by Republican state Rep. Ralph Massullo on Aug. 18 and will be debated in the 2018 legislative period, WFLA reported.

If adopted, the law would require Florida's Department of Children and Families to request a waiver from the federal government's Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program to allow the ban to take effect. If the waiver is denied, the department would be obliged to renew its request on an annual basis.

The law defines a soft drink as a flavored carbonated beverage sweetened with natural or artificial sweeteners.

If passed, the ban would come into force on July 1, 2018.

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Food stamps claimants already face a number of restrictions on what they can purchase with their benefits. They are prohibited from buying alcohol and tobacco products, pet foods, soap and paper products, household supplies, vitamins and medicines, food that will be eaten in the store, and hot foods.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a detailed report into what the average household receiving food stamps buys at the store. It found that 5 percent of the money spent went to soft drinks, while the broader category of "sweetened beverages," which also includes fruit juice, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for close to 10 percent of total spending.

"In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry," Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University told The New York Times. "It's pretty shocking."

The report was based on 2011 records from an unnamed nationwide grocery chain. The data included purchases by more than 26 million households, around 3 million of which received food stamps.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture argued that it is unfair to single out food stamp recipients for purchasing soft drinks.

"Sweetened beverages are a common purchase in all households across America," the USDA's Kevin Concannon told the Times. "This report raises a question for all households: Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?"

The report found that across all households, "more money was spent on soft drinks than any other item."

Other studies have shown that the U.S. is one of the highest consumers of soft drinks in the developed world.

David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital, said the findings were troubling for public health.

"We have more evidence for the harms of sugary beverages than for any other category of food," he added, "and yet it tops the list of reimbursed products in SNAP."

Sources: WFLA, The New York Times / Featured Image: dyobmit/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Michael Rivera/flickr via Wikimedia Commons, Kolossus/flickr via Wikimedia Commons

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