WASHINGTON—More than a dozen nutrition researchers are asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to align the recommendations for healthful eating, outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The findings appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on Jan. 18, 2017, as a 103-page supplement, entitled “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Role in Addressing Nutrition-Related Health Issues.” Two study authors, Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., and Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., find this alignment can help SNAP participants double nutrient intake and may save the USDA $26 billion each year. The savings can be reinvested into the program to further alleviate food insecurity.
The SNAP program uses $74 million annually to provide 45 million Americans living at or below 130 percent of the poverty level with electronic benefits to purchase food. Half of SNAP recipients are children and teens. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase any food item, except for hot and prepared entrées, alcoholic beverages, and vitamins.
“Our goal is to blend nutrition science and nutrition guidance into federal food assistance programs, especially SNAP, which one in seven Americans relies on for nourishment,” notes Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a study author and the director of nutrition education at the nonprofit Physicians Committee. “As our diets have changed over 50 years, our federal food policies should follow suit.”
Compared to higher income populations, SNAP recipients are 70 percent more likely to have type 2 diabetes and 19 percent more likely to have hypertension. Compared to income-eligible populations, SNAP recipients struggle with higher rates of obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Fifty-five percent of SNAP benefits apply to meats, sweetened beverages, prepared foods and desserts, cheese, salty snacks, candy, and sugar, while just 23.9 percent are spent on fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and spices. Americans in every income bracket fall short on plant-based eating patterns. Only 13 percent of adults meet the USDA’s recommended fruit and vegetable intake.
More than 86 percent of health care spending in America is used to treat or prevent chronic lifestyle disease. The United States spends half a trillion, more than $560 billion each year, to treat type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Medical costs for type 2 diabetes are twice the amount for someone without the disease. Diabetes is now the most expensive disease to treat.
More than half of SNAP recipients support this alignment, according to recent surveys. Between 55 and 88 percent favor program expansion and incentivizes for healthful food purchases.
For interactive content or an interview with Dr. Barnard or Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., please contact Jeanne Stuart McVey, Media Relations Manager, 202-527-7316, 202-686-2210, ext. 316.
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.