Strengthening the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could help tackle the dual problems of food insecurity and obesity in the United States, according to an official policy report from the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC).
Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, funding for SNAP has been threatened with cuts under current Farm Bill proposals. Meanwhile, the number of Americans signing up for SNAP benefits has surged over the past few years, to reach 46.2m in April 2012, an increase of about 11% since a year ago, and an increase of over 60% since 2007.
The CSPC is a non-profit, non-partisan policy and education institution.
Project director Susan Blumenthal said in a statement: "First and foremost, the current SNAP budget should be preserved – we cannot leave millions of Americans without this vital safety net. But the absolute next priority is to strengthen nutrition in SNAP – the fact that 1 in 7 Americans are food insecure while two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese reveals a perilous American paradox that SNAP must address.”
Public health approach
The policy report, SNAP to Health , recommends taking a public health-driven approach to SNAP, along the lines of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program, which was updated to improve its nutrition standards in 2009. In particular, it suggests implementing measures to encourage purchase of fruits and vegetables, and to discourage the purchase of high calorie, low-nutrient foods.
Among its recommendations, the report suggests working with retailers to monitor the kinds of foods and beverages bought with SNAP benefits and how closely they reflect dietary guidelines; strengthening the scientific arm of the USDA to assess the program’s impact on public health; and a pilot program with a defined food package for child recipients of SNAP, considering that nearly 50% of the program’s beneficiaries are under 19 years old.
The authors acknowledge that restricting the purchase of certain foods with SNAP benefits has proved controversial. However, they point out that there are already limitations in place for certain products under SNAP, including for alcohol and prepared foods.
“Therefore, it should be possible to move in this direction if the approach is shown to shift purchasing toward a more nutritious SNAP market basket,” they wrote.
The full report is available to download here .