Food Stamp Program Falls Short on Nutrition: Study

Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 03:18 PM

By Nick Tate

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The nation's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program isn't living up to its name. A new study shows the SNAP program — former known Food Stamps — does not do enough to provide recipients with the nutritional content that they need.

The Harvard School of Public Health study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior and reported by Medical News Today, found "a substantial proportion" of SNAP recipients — nearly 15 percent — are not "able to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all [household] members because of insufficient money or other resources for food."

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According to the study, approximately 44.7 million people received SNAP benefits in 2011, equating to 1 in 7 Americans. With SNAP benefits, individuals can buy most foods, however, they are not able to purchase alcohol, supplements, or prepared foods.

The results are based on a 3-month study involving 107 low-income adults who took part in the SNAP program with help from a non-profit anti-hunger organization called Project Bread.

"After participating in SNAP for a few months, a substantial proportion of SNAP participants still reported marginal, low, or very low food security," which is defined as not meeting nutritional guidelines, said lead researcher Eric Rimm, an associate Harvard professor of epidemiology and nutrition. "[This] suggests that SNAP could do more to adequately address the problem of food insecurity."

He added that although most people would assume receiving SNAP benefits would lead to purchasing and consuming healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the study found that was not necessarily true. In fact, adults on SNAP benefits actually increased the amount of refined grains they consumed, compared with those not on SNAP benefits.

"There was no appreciable improvement in dietary quality among SNAP participants after the initiation of benefits,"Rimm said.

The researchers noted that New York City has proposed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture restrict the purchase of sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks using SNAP benefits, but the government organization rejected the proposal. Public health advocates, researchers, and even SNAP participants have supported these restrictions.

"We need to do more to help provide a framework for healthier eating," Rimm told Medical News Today. "The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is in name meant to help provide nutritional assistance to beneficiaries, but with the very simple framework now instituted, it only provides resources to buy any food."

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