Sugary Drinks Don't Belong in Food Assistance Plan, Says AMA

Marcia Frellick

June 20, 2013

CHICAGO — Physicians voted yesterday to ask the American Medical Association (AMA) to push for removing sugar-sweetened drinks from items available under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program here at the AMA 2013 Annual Meeting.

Millions of Americans receive food assistance, and studies have shown that 58% of the beverages purchased through the program are sugar-sweetened. Consumption of these drinks is associated with weight gain and a higher risk for obesity.

The food assistance program pays at least $2 billion a year for sugar-sweetened beverages purchased as groceries alone. Cost estimates are likely much higher when you add in sugary drinks purchased outside grocery stores, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2012;43:411-418).

In addition to removing the drinks, the new policy calls on the AMA to encourage physicians to educate their patients about the effects of the drinks and asks state health agencies to include nutrition information in materials sent to food assistance recipients.

"The AMA is working to improve the nation's healthcare outcomes, particularly cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are often linked to obesity," AMA president Ardis Hoven, MD, said in a statement. "Removing sugar-sweetened beverages from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will help encourage healthier beverage choices."

Obesity concerns are a top priority on the AMA agenda. Earlier this week, delegates voted to classify obesity a disease. More than a third of Americans are obese, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yesterday, during the closing session for the House of Delegates, physicians voted to ask the AMA to fight against what they consider to be inappropriate calls from pharmacists asking for additional information about patients' diagnoses and treatments before filling prescriptions.

Physicians Protest New Directive for Pharmacists

At least 1 national drug store chain initiated a policy that pharmacists must verify the legitimacy of controlled substance prescriptions with physicians to crack down on abuse, according to a report by the Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont delegations.

But physicians say that company's directive, guided by Drug Enforcement Administration actions, goes too far and interferes with the doctor–patient relationship because prescription decisions are in the physician's realm. Checking on prescription basics is one thing, verifying reasoning is another.

Such calls could also slow the process for patients trying to get their medications, physicians say.

The resolution also asks the AMA to communicate its policy against such calls to companies and federal regulators. If the issue of the calls is not resolved quickly, the resolution notes, the AMA should advocate for "legislative and regulatory solutions to prohibit pharmacies and pharmacists from denying medically necessary and legitimate therapeutic treatments to patients."

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