Millions could see health benefits with changes to federal nutrition program, report finds

March 13, 2018, American Heart Association
Millions could see health benefits with changes to federal nutrition program, report finds
Credit: American Heart Association

More than 40 million Americans who rely on a government nutrition program face risks for major health problems because the program lacks nutrition standards, according to a new report.

The released this week by the Bipartisan Policy Center found there are still "untapped opportunities" to change the situation for people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. It's the only federal food assistance program without nutrition standards.

The center's report found while there is a growing concern about high rates of obesity and related chronic diseases, states and the federal government – which together provide millions with Medicaid and Medicare – are in a unique position to make a difference.

In addition to increasing education; coordinating federal and state agencies and programs; and aligning SNAP benefits with Medicaid, the report suggests:

  • Making diet quality a core SNAP objective.
  • Strengthening incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables.
  • Authorizing U.S. Department of Agriculture funds to for pilot projects to improve SNAP participants' diets.
  • Strengthening SNAP retailer standards to improve the food environment for all shoppers.

"The overall purpose of this report is to shine a light on the fact that with more than 40 million people receiving SNAP benefits, their health can be improved through a greater attention on nutrition and what is actually being delivered," said former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, a doctor and a co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center task force that produced the report.

The absence of for SNAP recipients is a longstanding problem.

A 2012 study found people using SNAP consume 39 percent fewer whole grains, 46 percent more red meat. Women in the program drank 61 percent more sugary beverages, the study found.

Sugary beverages are the largest single source of added sugars in Americans' diets and have been linked to heart disease and stroke risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

A 2016 study found that teen and adult SNAP recipients had larger waists and higher levels of obesity than people who aren't in the program, even when controlling for income.

Ann M. Veneman, former secretary of agriculture and the Bipartisan Policy Center's prevention initiative co-chair, said the new report reflects a shifting perspective on the impact of nutrition on health care.

"We know that so many diseases people experience today are diet and obesity related," she said. "We really believe that if we don't begin the discussion on how to connect the various federal programs that are impacting people's health, we won't be able to affect the underlying issue of the rising cost of health care."

SNAP plays a critical role in reducing poverty and hunger, and the challenge is how to keep the program strong and encourage healthier eating.

The American Heart Association is advocating for a voluntary pilot program in SNAP to be included in the farm bill reauthorization. The program would offer incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables, exclude sugary beverage purchases and create evaluations to assess elements such as impact on consumer purchasing, stigma and retailer implementation.

States, which have a key role in administrating SNAP, also could run such pilots and evaluate their effectiveness – with help from the federal government, the report suggests. It's also something the AHA supports.

The report also mentions that other waivers could be applied to allow states to combine SNAP and Medicaid data, as well as funds to improve and health outcomes in both populations.

The pilot programs, plus recommendations from the new report, could lead to important data that could help assess the importance of healthy food access and diet quality, AHA CEO Nancy Brown said.

"Moving forward, we believe this comprehensive report provides lawmakers with a good starting point for discussions on how maintain the current integrity and funding for SNAP," Brown said, "while successfully delivering the maximum public health benefits to the Americans it supports."

Explore further: Increased food assistance benefits could result in fewer ER visits

More information: Peter J Huth et al. Major food sources of calories, added sugars, and saturated fat and their contribution to essential nutrient intakes in the U.S. diet: data from the national health and nutrition examination survey (2003–2006), Nutrition Journal (2013). DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-116

Cindy W Leung et al. Dietary intake and dietary quality of low-income adults in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2012). DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.040014

Cindy W. Leung et al. SNAP Participation and Diet-Sensitive Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Adolescents, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.06.011

Related Stories

Increased food assistance benefits could result in fewer ER visits

February 1, 2017
In 2014, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal program to address food insecurity in the United States, provided $70 billion in nutrition support to 46.5 million families and children living in 22.7 ...

New poll shows US public supports continued investment in Federal Nutrition Assistance Program

December 5, 2012
A new poll from researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) shows that the U.S. public broadly supports increasing or maintaining spending on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly ...

Enrollment in SNAP does not substantially improve food security or dietary quality

November 15, 2013
Millions of families in the United States struggle to provide nutritionally adequate meals due to insufficient money or other resources. To combat food security issues, over one in seven Americans currently rely upon the ...

Federal food program pays $2 billion annually for sugar-sweetened beverages

September 17, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—The federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pays at least $2 billion annually for sugar-sweetened beverages purchased in grocery stores alone, according to a study by the Yale ...

Federal food program puts food on the table, but dietary quality could be improved

September 23, 2014
A new American Cancer Society study suggests that participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the food stamp program, had lower dietary quality scores compared with income eligible ...

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program participation may reduce health care costs

September 25, 2017
A study led by a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigator suggests that participation in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) may reduce health care costs ...

Recommended for you

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

Obesity, risk of cognitive dysfunction? Consider high-intensity interval exercise

December 10, 2018
It's fast-paced, takes less time to do, and burns a lot of calories. High-intensity interval exercise is widely recognized as the most time-efficient and effective way to exercise. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers ...

How to survive on 'Game of Thrones': Switch allegiances

December 9, 2018
Characters in the Game of Thrones TV series are more likely to die if they do not switch allegiance, and are male, according to an article published in the open access journal Injury Epidemiology.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.