Sugar SNAP

Despite themselves and their severely limited world-view, mainstream medical institutions sometimes do the right thing

Most recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) began its push to remove sugar-sweetened drinks as items covered by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (Also known as SNAP, or simply food stamps.).

Millions of people in this country are currently receiving food assistance. And it’s estimated that well over half of all beverages SNAP recipients have bought through this program are sweetened with sugar.

SNAP’s sugary drink tab comes in at roughly $2 billion a year or more. And that’s just counting purchases made in grocery stores.

That figure is simply astonishing. And I probably don’t have to explain why it’s a problem.

Instead, I’ll just share the words of AMA president Ardis Hoven, MD:

“The AMA is working to improve the nation’s healthcare outcomes, particularly cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are often linked to obesity. Removing sugar-sweetened beverages from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will help encourage healthier beverage choices.”

Bold statements on their part, for sure. And the closest this group has ever come to recognizing the deadly link between sugar and chronic disease.

But this development has been a long time coming. Way too long, if you ask me.

It’s hard to get too excited about something that really should have happened years ago. Especially when the battle over sugary drinks shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

I have a patient who works for a major beverage manufacturer. During our last encounter, naturally, the conversation turned to Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces.

My patient thinks that if Bloomberg had just brought the manufacturers into the conversation, rather than trying to dictate the issue outright, this important legislation probably would have passed.

Who knows if that’s true? Personally, I think it’s disgusting that soda companies have that much power. But maybe he’s right.

Maybe we need to try harder to make the source of the problem a part of the solution. At this point, an open dialogue would at least be a step in the right direction.

More than one third of all Americans are obese. Not just overweight but obese. Taking sugary beverages out of the equation is the simplest, most effective way to do away with empty calories and deal with this problem head-on.

Yet, the ban was overturned and now its fate will be decided by the courts. That’s just plain criminal in my mind.

So I’m happy to see that the AMA is finally coming around on this issue. It’s high time the government stopped subsidizing obesity. And taking the sugar out of SNAP is a good place to start.

Sugary drinks don’t belong in food assistance plan, says AMA. Medscape. Jun 20, 2013.