The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

SNAP-Ed: Where Are the Cuts

SNAP-Ed: Where Are the Cuts

The Food Journal

March 5, 2013


Consumer food choices with SNAP: 

Families on SNAP still have money to spend on food, close to $820 a month. According to an Institute of Medicine report commissioned by the USDA in January 2013, the maximum snap allotment is based on the Thrifty Food Plan, "a model market basket of food that represents a nutritious diet at minimal cost." This assumes participants will cook from scratch and not buy prepared foods. But do the recipients have the time, education, equipment or access to healthy food? A survey by the American Dietetic Association Foundation reports on the key role mothers have as models for their children's eating habits. Together, mothers and their children make or influence food purchases and meal decisions. For a family on SNAP, this decision is based not only on an allowable food list, but time available to prepare a healthy meal. Fruits and vegetables aside, a large portion of SNAP expenditures are on dry and canned goods as well as deli. The addition of nutritional guidelines on product labels (with some consensus on what constitutes "healthy") only goes so far with people who don't have time to read details, or the necessary background to understand them. With cuts in SNAP-Ed, the development of information on the Nutrition Facts panels that appear on food packages may have to grow in importance but can they be clear to the population? Lempert commentaryNewark, NJ Mayor Booker tried to survive on SNAP and found it to be very challenging.  

Government Education versus Retailer Assistance: 

The National Academy of Sciences reports that SNAP doesn't account for many barriers in finding affordable nutritious food by inner city shoppers or those living in a food desert. Blame of food deserts could be put upon supermarkets, but they left because of robbery, lag of customers between welfare checks and sales of products in health and beauty that low income people didn't buy. Supermarkets are going back in these areas for a variety of reasons, but among them is technology's increased sophistication (planograms) with stocking shelves and placement of products people are going to buy. Placement and signage could also address some of the necessary nutritional education. Supermarkets have been increasing their efforts to educate customers in general though promotions of healthy products, in-store magazines with healthy eating messaging, and in-store nutritionists. However, the number of stores that employ dietitians is still a small percentage and often these are in predominately higher income areas. Supermarkets across the board have an opportunity to fill the gap in education for their SNAP customers as well as all shoppers Hentges commentary. Some retailers have grouped WIC items and there is an opportunity here to do some messaging.

How valuable is SNAP-Ed to the consumer? 

In a recent National Grocers Association-SupermarketGuru 2013 Consumer Panel Survey, people want to know their produce has not traveled far and is fresh. People correlate closeness with better nutrition because food is fresher and traveled a short distance. A W. K. Kellogg Foundation survey found that 93 percent of Americans said they believe it's "important" to "make sure all Americans have equal access to fresh fruits and vegetables." According to the letter written by the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior to the Senate and House committee on Agriculture in 2011 (see SNAP-Ed funding projects link), programs such as Double Up Food bucks in Michigan providing education at farmers markets helped to triple the purchase of fruits and vegetables. A SNAP-Ed School Nutrition Policy initiative involving fourth and fifth graders resulted in a 50% reduction in obesity. "This funding cut to the program undermines and weakens a critical component of our nationwide efforts to promote healthy eating and prevent chronic disease just as investments to prevent obesity and promote healthy eating are beginning to show results," said Matthew Marsom, an executive with the Public Health Institute. The consumer is aware he/she is hungry. And when they have limited education on what to buy, corporations that are teaming up with food banks and Feeding America Advocacy programs are helping to fill the gap.