American Medical Association Calls for Healthier Foods in SNAP Program

The Physicians Committee
NEWS RELEASE June 15, 2017
American Medical Association Calls for Healthier Foods in SNAP Program
Doctors Group that Proposed ‘Healthy Staples’ for SNAP Applauds Resolution

WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee—a nonprofit with 12,000 doctors members—applauds the American Medical Association (AMA) for adopting a resolution on June 13 that calls on the federal government to improve the healthfulness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.


The resolution, which was co-introduced by the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and the American College of Cardiology, “requests that the federal government (1) support Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) initiatives to incentivize healthful foods and disincentivize or eliminate unhealthful foods and (2) harmonize SNAP food offerings with those of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).”

During the AMA House of Delegates meeting in Chicago on June 11, Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., testified on behalf of the resolution.

“Economically disadvantaged patients are at the highest risk diabetes, obesity, and other serious problems. A big part of the solution ought to come from SNAP. One in seven Americans participates in SNAP, and if the program filled their grocery carts with vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, it would go a long way for health,” said Dr. Barnard in his testimony. “But SNAP retailers are paid dollar-for-dollar for candy, energy drinks, sausage, cheese, and other products no one needs.”

Dr. Barnard and Yale University’s David Katz, M.D., recently edited the “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Role in Addressing Nutrition-Related Health Issues,” a special supplement of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

In the supplement, Dr. Barnard recommended that SNAP incorporate a Healthy Staples program modeled after WIC. SNAP would only reimburse retailers for selling healthful foods. They would stop profiting from selling their customers disease-causing junk foods. SNAP retails would instead offer a range of healthful plant-based foods (with preparation tips and easy meal ideas): grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, pasta, and tortillas; fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables; dry or low-sodium canned beans; fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, and basic multiple vitamins.

Currently, 55 percent of SNAP benefits are used for meats, sweetened beverages, prepared foods and desserts, cheese, salty snacks, candy, and sugar, while just 24 percent are spent on fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and spices.

A 2015 USDA study compared SNAP participants with income-eligible nonparticipants, and found that SNAP participants had poorer overall diet quality and consumed more calories from solid fats, added sugars, soda, and alcohol and consumed fewer vegetables and fruits. These nutritional differences were deemed responsible for the higher obesity rates among SNAP participants.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that SNAP participants have an increased risk of death from heart disease and three times the diabetes mortality rate when compared to income-ineligible nonparticipants. Researchers also observed an increased risk for SNAP participants when compared to income-eligible nonparticipants. 

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.

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