Fifteen percent of the U.S. population is enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Since obesity and food insecurity are especially prevalent among low-income Americans, according to a report from the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, legislators are seeking ways to change the SNAP program in order to use it as a tool to promote healthier nutrition, reduce obesity rates, alleviate food insecurity, and enhance the health of low-income populations.
In June, mayors from 18 cities sent a letter to Congress imploring lawmakers to consider limiting SNAP’s subsidization of products such as sugar-sweetened beverages, which account for 58 percent of all beverages purchased by households receiving SNAP benefits, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. They argued that limiting food products that can be purchased with SNAP benefits in the upcoming Farm Bill would increase incentives for the consumption of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants.
Health groups and advocates across the country are joining the fight to ban soda and unhealthy foods from SNAP purchases. “The government should not be in the business of making people sick,” said Kelly Brownell, the dean of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
But anti-hunger groups across the country fiercely object to limiting the food and beverages that SNAP participants can buy. These groups are opposed to all limitations on food choice, believing that people have the right to buy their own food. Additionally, making families in the grocery line pay separately for forbidden foods would be stigmatizing, they argue. Anti-hunger groups also believe that the line between “good” and “bad” foods would be impossible to draw, with approximately 40,000 products available in the grocery store.
Despite opposition from anti-hunger groups, SNAP participants have shown support for using SNAP to foster healthy eating choices. According to a poll commissioned by the Harvard School of Public Health, 54 percent of respondents supported the removal of SNAP benefits for sugary drinks. And, of the 46 percent of SNAP participants who initially opposed removing sugary drinks, 45 percent would change their position and support the policy if the new policy included additional benefits to purchase healthy foods.