WASHINGTON—As the House Agriculture Committee prepares to release a draft of the Farm Bill on April 12, the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit with 12,000 doctor members—is calling on Chairman Mike Conaway to incorporate the group’s Healthy Staples plan into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The plan would provide better nutrition to participants by ensuring they receive more fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
“It’s time for SNAP to stop prioritizing the profits of the junk food industry over the health of participants,” says Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C. “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway could make this happen by modifying the Farm Bill to include the Healthy Staples plan, ensuring participants get more fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.”
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.
Dr. Barnard 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 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.
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.
Healthy Staples would also be a boon to retailers by curtailing the economic rationale for stocking less nutritious foods and instead reimbursing them for stocking foods that help keep their communities healthy.
Earlier this year, the American Medical Association also asked the USDA to incentivize healthful foods and discourage or eliminate unhealthful foods.
To speak to Dr. Barnard or another expert, please contact Jeanne Stuart McVey at JMcVey@PCRM.org or 202-527-7316.
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.