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Make Food Stamps Healthy

Better Food for More People

Everybody deserves healthy food, including the millions of Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Each month, this U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides nutrition assistance to 44 million low-income individuals. Children make up nearly half of SNAP participants. But SNAP isn’t currently set up to help them get the good nutrition they need.

SNAP Subsidizes Unhealthy Foods

SNAP subsidizes retailers for selling the same foods high in sugars, saturated fats, and sodium that the USDA tells Americans to avoid in the Dietary Guidelines. More than half of SNAP benefits are taken by retailers for meats, sweetened beverages, prepared foods and desserts, cheese, salty snacks, candy, and sugar. Just 23.9 percent go for fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and spices.

SNAP Increases Disease Risk

That hurts the health of SNAP participants, putting them at greater risk of death from diabetes and heart disease than nonparticipants. Forty percent of adult SNAP participants are also obese, versus 32 percent for nonparticipants at the same income level nonparticipants. Economically disadvantaged Americans also have 70 percent higher incidence of diabetes and 19 percent higher incidence of hypertension, compared with wealthier Americans.

To help SNAP participants avert these diseases, the American Medical Association has asked the USDA to incentivize healthful foods and discourage or eliminate unhealthful foods.

Healthy Staples: Better Food for More People

Healthy Staples is a plan that could help achieve this goal. It’s inspired by a USDA program called the Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC. WIC is based on the use of foods packages that include foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are deemed to provide good nutrition. Healthy Staples would pay participating grocers who supply basic healthful foods: grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, and basic multiple vitamins.

Participants choosing solely from the Healthy Staples plan would likely get about twice 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 essentially zero cholesterol.