The authors of the study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, used dietary data from the 2003 to 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) of 15,645 children and adolescents (aged 2- to 19-years-old).
Children were classified according to self-reported participation in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program and household income. Over one-quarter (27.8%) were SNAP participants, 15.3% were income eligible for SNAP but not participants, 29.7% had lower incomes that were ineligible for SNAP; and 27.2% had higher incomes that were ineligible for SNAP.
Overall SSB consumption declines while sports/energy drinks spikes
The most significant results from the analysis of the consumption data included a notable decline in SSB consumption across all SNAP participation groups, particularly in soda.
Among children who were SNAP participants, the percentage drinking SSBs declined from 84.2% to 75.6% and per capita daily consumption of SSB calories declined from 267 to 182 calories. Among income-eligible non-participants, SSB consumption went from 85.8% to 67.5%, 84.3% to 70.6% among lower income–ineligible nonparticipants, and 82.2% to 67.7% among higher income–ineligible nonparticipants
In 2014, nearly one in four children who were income-eligible for the SNAP program consumed a fruit drink on any given day (SNAP participants: 24.8%; income-eligible nonparticipants: 23.4%). The share of SNAP participants consuming a sports/energy drink on any given day tripled from 2003 to 2014 (from 2.6% to 8.4%).
Fruit drink consumption declined significantly among households who were not eligible for SNAP benefits. Among SNAP participants, fruit drink consumption remained flat.
"Taken together, these results suggest that public health efforts to decrease overall SSB (and particularly soda) intake among children and adolescents in the past decade have been successful," wrote researchers.
"Efforts that may have contributed to the observed declines in SSB consumption include improvements to national school feeding programs, product reformulations by food manufacturers and retailers, and extensive dialogue and media coverage about the role of certain foods and beverages in weight gain."
Further restrictions on SSBs under SNAP?
However, the study noted that even with the decline in consumption, current levels remain too high, with 61% of all children and 75.6% of SNAP recipients still consuming a SSB on a typical day.
"While the observed declines in children's sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the past decade are promising, the less favorable trends among children in SNAP suggest the need for more targeted efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption," said lead investigator of the study, J. Wyatt Koma, an independent researcher based in Washington, D.C.
Researchers added that a possible strategy to further reduce SSB consumption among kids may be to restrict purchases of SSBs under the SNAP program.
"Simulation studies suggest that restricting the purchase of SSBs with SNAP benefits could result in a reduction in SSB consumption of 24 kcal per person, a 2.4% decrease in obesity prevalence, and 1.7% decrease in type 2 diabetes prevalence.
"For SNAP participants for whom benefits provide 100% of food dollars, an SSB restriction may have an even larger effect because they would not have the ability to replace the benefit with personal funds to purchase SSBs."