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Using food stamps to buy items like soda in South Carolina could become a thing of the past if an effort by some state officials is successful.
Leaders with the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Department of Social Services think it's possible they could get soda taken off of that list here if they start off with a small test population.
State officials want to make it clear - they aren't proposing a "ban" on soda. They don't have a problem with vending machines where you can choose to drink whatever you like - and the money people are spending hasn't been given to you by the government.
DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said the state needs a change, with more than 1.5 million people in South Carolina considered obese, which is about one third of the state's population. She's aiming for change starting with people who use food stamps.
"We're not trying to prevent people from exercising their free choice, that's fine," Templeton said. "But I don't think its appropriate for the federal government to spend $2 billion a year on sugar-added drinks than have to pay the hundreds of billions of health costs that are caused by the obesity epidemic."
Changing the requirements of items eligible for food stamps - soda in particular - has been tried by many states in the past and failed.
An article on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website said it is hard to rule out individual food items in people's diets stating, "Foods contain many components that can affect health, and diets contain many foods. As a result, it is challenging to determine whether - and the point at which - the presence or absence of desirable nutrients outweighs the presence of nutrients to be avoided in ruling a food 'in' or 'out.'"
But Templeton said when it comes to soda, it's a no brainer. And she thinks South Carolina could serve as the perfect testing grounds for the country using Bamberg, Fairfield and Lee counties for initial trial runs.
"It seems very intuitive that we should not be paying for empty calories, if we can show them on a small scale, then possibility they'll allow us to do a waiver on a large scale, maybe even change the law," Templeton said.
Some agree with the idea while others think it's pointless to only restrict soda.
But DHEC said they'd like to ban using food stamps to buy all "empty calorie foods" if the USDA would approve it.
There are already some items that cannot be bought with food stamps including alcohol and tobacco products, nonfood items like pet or cleaning products, vitamins and medicines and hot foods.
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