Diving Into the SNAP/Soda Marketing Debate

Study found higher odds of in-store sugar-sweetened beverage advertising during benefit issuance days


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Everyone wants to rail on the soda companies and the retailers that sell it.

In fact, a few years ago, headlines shot across the nation revealing that soda companies were timing their ads and promotions to the days food stamps were distributed. The reason was simple: Back in 2011, the New York State Department of Health audited 600 grocery stores and reported that low-income Americans consume more soda than do people in other income levels. Needless to say, the report was criticized and the companies denied any such wrongdoing.

A new study, based on the original data report, was recently published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Titled "Increases in Sugary Drink Marketing During Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefit Issuance in New York," the results were similar – that there were higher odds of in-store sugar-sweetened beverage marketing during SNAP benefit issuance days (first to ninth days of the month) compared with other days of the month, particularly for sugar-sweetened beverage advertisements and displays.

In census tracts with high SNAP enrollment (more than 28%), the odds of a retailer having sugar-sweetened beverage displays were 4.35 times higher (95% CI=1.93, 9.98) during issuance compared with nonissuance days. There were no differences in marketing for low-calorie or unsweetened beverages.

“People will argue that individuals are ultimately responsible for their choices, but we know that the environment in which we make choices matters,” Alyssa Moran, research lead, told The Washington Post. “This study is another example of the industry targeting sugary-beverage marketing toward lower-income families.”

This study is the first to tie food advertising to SNAP distribution patterns.  The research team found that stores were 1.88 times as likely to have soda displays on the first through the ninth of the month, when food stamps are distributed in New York. That figure falls to zero in neighborhoods with few SNAP recipients and rises to 4.35 in neighborhoods with large numbers of SNAP shoppers. The study was limited to New York.

When interviewed by The Post, Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, two of the three largest soda producers in the United States, both said they did not consider SNAP when creating their marketing plans.  


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