WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee—a nonprofit with 12,000 doctor members—supports recommendations in a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center that calls on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to congressionally mandate a focus on diet quality and healthy nutrition, including encouraging increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. The recommendations align with the Physicians Committee’s Healthy Staples plan.
The BPC’s report, Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health, says that despite SNAP’s documented success in reducing hunger and improving food security, SNAP has been less successful in promoting healthy nutrition. In addition to recommendations for more fruits and vegetables, the report says another priority should be to test innovative delivery models for foods purchased with SNAP benefits, such as home-delivered groceries, which the White House recently recommended with its America’s Harvest Box.
“Between the Bipartisan Policy Center’s recommendations and the America’s Harvest Box proposal from the USDA, Congress has plenty of notice that it needs to provide SNAP participants the good nutrition they deserve to fight obesity, heart disease, and diabetes,” says Physicians Committee director of nutrition education Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “With the Physicians Committee's Health Staples plan, Congress can commit to ensuring that meaningful SNAP reform happens in the 2018 Farm Bill.”
Forty-four percent of adult SNAP participants are obese, versus 32 percent for nonparticipants at the same income level nonparticipants. They also have an increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes, compared to SNAP-eligible nonparticipants.
Levin and Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., detailed Healthy Staples in “A Proposal for Improvements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The Physicians Committee’s Healthy Staples plan is inspired by the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, which is based on foods deemed to provide good nutrition. When WIC began promoting more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, childhood obesity declined for participants, according to a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics.
The BPC report highlights a 2013 study that concluded that children who received SNAP benefits had substandard diets, consuming 43 percent more sugar-sweetened beverages, 47 percent more high-fat dairy, and 44 percent more processed meats than income-eligible nonparticipants. Forty-four percent of SNAP participants are children.
SNAP participants choosing solely from Healthy Staples would likely get more than twice the fiber, iron, vitamin E, and folate; almost twice the potassium, calcium, and magnesium; almost 40 percent more vitamin D; and more than five times more beta-carotene than those following a typical American diet. A Healthy Staples participant would also consume 65 percent less fat and 85 percent less saturated fat, and the excess of 250 milligrams of cholesterol consumed daily would be reduced to essentially zero.
Earlier this year, the American Medical Association also asked the USDA to incentivize healthful foods and discourage or eliminate unhealthful foods.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.