SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program), formerly known as Food Stamps, was created to address hunger in the United States. Yet, since its creation, the nation’s most pressing nutrition challenges have grown to include food overconsumption and obesity. While SNAP benefits can be used to buy fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they can also be used to purchase foods high in calories but with poor nutrient profiles- candy, soda, chips and other processed foods linked to obesity and poor health.
The Capital Area Food Bank does not tell people what to buy and eat, but we do support debate around this topic since certain policy changes could result in people using SNAP benefits to eat more nutritiously, a goal which we encourage. As we’ve moved into our new facility, both our dedication and capacity to provide healthy food for our community have increased.
Meaningful SNAP reform could result in a program that not only feeds hungry Americans, but one that actually improves their diets and overall health. Current policy options in the SNAP reform debate include increasing the overall amount of SNAP benefits, designating SNAP benefits for specific foods, incentivizing the purchase of healthy foods through the SNAP program, and expanding nutrition education. SNAP’s motto is “putting healthy food within reach.” SNAP reform could make this motto a reality.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adult obesity rates have doubled and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the last 30 years. Not only are more and more people overweight, but obesity unequally affects different populations and communities across the United States. A higher percentage of people of racial and ethnic minorities are overweight (PDF). As stated in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition :
—Drewnowski & Spector, 2004
What are the health consequences of obesity and unhealthy diets? Children who are overweight are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and find themselves at risk for developing heart disease. Since children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults, they will continue to face increased risks of developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes, strokes, certain types of cancer, and heart disease.
Additionally, a healthy weight does not necessarily imply good overall health. Poor nutrition choices among people at healthy weights, such as eating diets high in fat, sodium and cholesterol, still put them at risk for developing serious diseases. Since one in seven Americans currently receives SNAP benefits, modifying SNAP to improve food choices will have long lasting and far reaching positive health effects for millions of people.
What do you think? Should SNAP be reformed, and if so, how? We’ll be looking at various policy options in future posts.