NUTRITION SOCIETY BLOG

Paper of the Month: U.S. Public Supports Policies to Improve Nutritional Impact of Federal Nutrition Assistance Program

This month’s paper is from Public Health Nutrition and is entitled ‘Public support for policies to improve the nutritional impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)’. The full paper is published on Cambridge Journals Online will be freely available for a limited time.


The U.S. Congress is currently debating substantial cuts to agriculture and food assistance programs included in the 2012 Farm Bill in order to reduce the country’s budget deficit.  Due to the ongoing effects of the global recession, a record 46 million people, or one in seven Americans, receive benefits to purchase food every month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.  The $75 billion of annual federal spending on SNAP provides a both a critical buffer against severe poverty for its participants, half of whom are children, as well as much-needed counter-cyclical support for the weakened consumer-led U.S. economy.

Despite proposals in Congress to cut the SNAP budget, most Americans support continued spending on the program.  In a nationally-representative telephone survey of 3,024 U.S. adults conducted in April 2012 and published in Public Health Nutrition, 77% of Americans reported supporting increasing or maintaining the SNAP budget.   The survey identified majority support for SNAP spending regardless of political party, with 88% of Democrats, 81% of political independents, and 61% of Republicans supporting increased or maintained spending on SNAP.  These results are consistent with polls conducted by an anti-hunger advocacy group in January 2012 and by a non-partisan political journal in June of 2012, both of which found majority support for increased or maintained spending on SNAP. 

The survey also identified broad public support for innovative policy approaches to improving nutrition in the SNAP program, including 82% support for incentivizing purchase of healthful foods, 74% for increasing nutrition education, and 69% for removing sugary drinks from the list of approved SNAP purchases.  Contrary to concerns that have been raised about stigmatizing SNAP participants should sugary drinks be removed from SNAP benefits, 3 out of 4 SNAP participants surveyed supported a policy removing sugary drinks if it also included incentives to purchase healthful foods.   This is the first nationally-representative survey assessing SNAP participant support for removing sugary drinks from SNAP benefits.  Given the public support identified in this study and the clear science linking sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes, policymakers should consider funding a pilot program that both incentivizes healthful SNAP purchases and removes sugary drinks from the list of products that can be purchased with SNAP benefits. 

In addition to serving as a clear statement of public support for preventing hunger through the SNAP program, results from the study highlight the need for a comprehensive debate about the nutritional impact of the country’s largest nutrition assistance program. 

Michael W. Long, MPH

The paper is available online for a limited period:

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