The New York Times made a splash a few days ago with a story about the amount of soft drinks purchased by people who use the federal SNAP assistance, commonly known as food stamps.
The article was mentioned when a House committee in Arkansas endorsed a bill to prohibit use of food stamps for unhealthy foods such as soft drinks.
Now comes some pushback, from the USDA, academic researchers and others. Main point: Food stamp recipients’ grocery purchasing habits are about the same as those of buyers who use entirely their own money. (Remember that food stamp users also pay cash for their food.)
As the Times tells it, in a story illustrated by a faceless figure pushing a cart with about 17 2-liter bottles of soda, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report last year concluding that households participating in SNAP bought more soft drinks than any other category of grocery goods, such as milk, bread and cheeses.
This claim is not inaccurate — according to the report, soft drinks represented 5.44 percent of SNAP households’ grocery expenditures, compared to the 3.85 percent of spending that went toward milk, the next highest category of goods. This percentage also outpaced that of non-SNAP households, which dedicated 4.01 percent of their spending to soft drinks.
But the story misled readers by downplaying the report’s top-line finding: that there were “no major differences” in the spending patterns of SNAP and non-SNAP households, and that purchases of less healthy foods were common across all households, regardless of whether they used food stamps.
The USDA reiterated those findings, which The Huffington Post reported on last fall, in a statement on Tuesday.
“The results of USDA research released in November, 2016, confirm that the eating choices of SNAP participants are similar to those of most Americans: we all make many healthy choices, and we all continue to fall short of the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the statement read.
I don’t need any scientific research to conclude that unhealthy eating habits and obesity are not limited to welfare recipients.