Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Study: SNAP recipients' diet less nutritious than others'

A recently published study has found that the diet of the average person receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) is less nutritious than that of people not in SNAP. The study was done by the Food Policy Review and Intervention Cost-Effectiveness, or Food PRICE, at Boston's Tufts University, which studies population-wide nutrition and its relationship to cancer and cardiovascular health outcomes, Siobhan Gallagher reports for Tufts. Rural areas have the highest percentage of SNAP recipients.

The study compared the diets of three groups: people on SNAP, people who qualified for it but chose not to participate, and people whose income is too high to receive it. Researchers scored diets as poor, intermediate or ideal, based on how much they adhered to the American Heart Association's 2020 Strategic Impact Goals for diet. Poor diets are those that adhere to less than 40 percent of the AHA 2020 goals, intermediate diets scored 40 to 79.9 percent adherence, and ideal diets scored 80 percent or better.

In the ten-year period studied, 2003-04 to 2013-14, the average diet score among SNAP recipients didn't significantly improve, but improved significantly among both income-eligible nonparticipants and those with higher incomes.

Though there were improvements in consumption of some food groups and nutrients among SNAP participants, like whole grains, whole fruits and dark green vegetables, that group still had the lowest consumption of most healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and shellfish, and nuts, seeds and legumes. They also had the highest consumption of sugary-sweetened drinks.

"Disparities persisted for most food groups and nutrients. Even after adjusting for differences in age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, and income over time, diet-related disparities by SNAP participation status were not materially altered for most dietary components," co-author Junxiu Liu told Gallagher.

Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, said "These poor diets should not be interpreted as a cause-and-effect of participating in SNAP. It is possible that dietary trends of these low-income Americans could have been even worse without participation in SNAP. With the 2018 Farm Bill being debated in Congress, our findings underscore the need for robust new strategies for healthier eating and reduced dietary disparities for all Americans."

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