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USDA: Food Stamp Program Not Driving Much Healthy Eating

The federal government’s food stamp program could do more to encourage healthy eating among program recipients, according to a recent analysis conducted by the USDA, which administers the program.

USDA researchers compiled 7-8 years of data on the shopping habits of adult recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is commonly known as food stamps. Their goal was to determine whether any clear link exists between food stamp enrollment and healthier food choices.

But according to USDA economist Christian Gregory, the picture his research team got of SNAP diet trends from 2001 to 2008 was not exactly crystal clear.

On one hand, adult recipients surveyed bought more fresh fruit than similar households not on food stamps. But the same couldn't be said of vegetables – recipients ate slightly fewer green and orange veggies than non-recipients. And other data gathered on the groups' dietary choices didn’t point to statistically significant results.

Even so, Gregory said policymakers considering changes to SNAP benefits shouldn’t forget about the program’s two main goals - to fight food insecurity and promote healthy eating.

“The USDA is very concerned about supporting nutritious diets," Gregory said. "So they’re looking at different kinds of options for low income families.”

Those options now include incentive programs, where in some states SNAP recipients get discounts on fresh produce.

Gregory said the USDA will continue to look at the potential impact of food stamps on diets, as obesity rates remain a major public health concern.  

You can read more about SNAP participation and diet outcomes in Gregory's USDA Amber Waves publication.

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