WASHINGTON—The Senate’s farm bill passed out of the Agriculture Committee on June 13 without amendments to improve the nutrition of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, says the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit with 12,000 doctor members. The group continues to urge Congress to introduce the Healthy Staples plan as an amendment before the final farm bill votes, which are tentatively scheduled for June 22 in the House and early July in the Senate.
“By preserving the status quo, the Senate Ag Committee’s farm bill puts the health of millions of SNAP participants at risk,” says Physicians Committee director of nutrition education Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “SNAP participants were relying on the Senate to make a seismic shift in nutrition policy—like the Healthy Staples plan—that would help them fight obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.”
In May, the Physicians Committee released a poll that found 80 percent of respondents agreed that SNAP should focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains instead of soda, chips, meat, cheese, and energy drinks. The American Medical Association has asked the USDA to incentivize healthful foods and discourage or eliminate unhealthful foods from SNAP.
According to the USDA, SNAP participants are more likely to be obese than income-eligible nonparticipants. They also have an increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes, compared to SNAP-eligible nonparticipants.
Ms. Levin detailed Healthy Staples in “A Proposal for Improvements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Healthy Staples would subsidize participating grocers who supply basic healthful foods: grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, and basic multiple vitamins. SNAP participants choosing solely from Healthy Staples would likely get about double the fiber, iron, and calcium 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.
Healthy Staples is inspired by the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, which is based on the use of packages that include 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. Children make up nearly half of SNAP participants.
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.