Moving Beyond the Debate Over Restricting Sugary Drinks in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

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To address the dual problem of food insecurity and poor nutrition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently revised the nutrition standards for nearly all of its federal food programs to align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One notable exception is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Policy proposals to restrict SNAP benefits based on nutrition quality (e.g., excluding sugary drinks) have generated controversy and have polarized previous research and advocacy allies. This essay presents many of the issues that have emerged, which include challenges about the feasibility, justification, and effectiveness of restricting benefits; the risk of a slippery slope; concerns about participant dignity; and finally, distrust about the motives behind promoting and opposing a policy change. The purpose of this review is to increase mutual understanding and respect of different perspectives. The conclusion is that the rationales behind both support and opposition to updating the policies regulating SNAP benefits based on nutrition are fundamentally the same—the belief that a fair and just society cares for and protects vulnerable citizens, which in this case are low-income Americans who need assistance affording healthy food. Recommendations include activities to restore trust between the public health and anti-hunger communities, authentic engagement of SNAP participants in the conversation, and an optional SNAP program that includes both incentives and restrictions.




Schwartz, M. B. (2017, February 1). Moving Beyond the Debate Over Restricting Sugary Drinks in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(2), S199–S205.

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