Enrollment in SNAP Does Not Substantially Improve Food Security or Dietary Quality

According to a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Philadelphia, PA, November 15, 2013

Millions of families in the United States struggle to provide nutritionally adequate meals due to insufficient money or other resources. To combat food security issues, over one in seven Americans currently rely upon the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest federal nutrition program, to provide monetary support for nutrition. In the past, SNAP has been shown to reduce poverty among the poorest Americans and generate economic activity. However, according to a new study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, SNAP benefits alone may not be enough to provide its beneficiaries with the long-term food security or dietary quality they need.

"After participating in SNAP for a few months, a substantial proportion of SNAP participants still reported marginal, low, or very low food security, which suggests that SNAP could do more to adequately address the problem of food insecurity," according to lead investigator, Dr. Eric Rimm, Associate Professor in Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Although one might hypothesize that the provision of SNAP benefits would result in the purchase and consumption of healthy foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains), there was no appreciable improvement in dietary quality among SNAP participants after the initiation of benefits."

The study included 107 low-income adults from Massachusetts, all of whom had requested SNAP application assistance from Project Bread, a non-profit statewide anti-hunger organization. New SNAP participants were more likely to be non-White, normal weight, of lower household food security, and with lower dietary quality scores than low-income study participants who did not receive SNAP benefits. Dr. Rimm and his colleagues found a small improvement in food security for both SNAP participants and nonparticipants after the three-month study, but no significant differences between the two groups.

Likewise, consumption of fruits and vegetables was low among all participants in the study, but adults who received SNAP benefits increased their consumption of refined grains compared to those not receiving SNAP benefits. Increased refined grain consumption coupled with the low consumption of healthy foods led the study authors to conclude that "policies, programs, and nutrition education initiatives that improve the nutritional impact of SNAP should be implemented to enhance the program's influence on the diets and well-being of low-income Americans." For example, the majority of SNAP participants in the study supported the provision of financial incentives to purchase healthy foods (i.e. fruits and vegetables), more cooking or nutrition education classes, and restrictions for unhealthy foods, specifically soda, in order to help SNAP participants to eat better. These efforts should be based on further research to identify to the most effective ways to achieve the federal program's goals of reducing food insecurity and improving the nutritional quality of participants' diets.


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Notes for editors

"Few Changes in Food Security and Dietary Intake From Short-term Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Among Low-income Massachusetts Adults," by Cindy W. Leung, ScD, MPH; Sarah Cluggish, MBA; Eduardo Villamor, MD, DrPH; Paul J. Catalano, ScD; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH; Eric B. Rimm, ScD, has been published online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in advance of Volume 46, Issue 4 (June/July 2014) published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or jnebmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the authors, please contact Marjorie Dwyer at mhdwyer@hsph.harvard.edu or +1 617 432 8416, Media Relations Manager at the Harvard School of Public Health.

An audio podcast featuring an interview with Dr. Cindy Leung, and information specifically for journalists are located at www.jneb.org/content/podcast. Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media; contact Eileen Leahy to obtain permission.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB) (www.jneb.org)
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society's efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications.

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