SNAP: An Underused Lever to Address the Obesity Epidemic

One of the bigger policy levers to improve the nutrition decisions that people make lies with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. By making some policy changes within the program, we could hard-wire better nutrition decisions among program participants.

The thing is that the federal government (congress and USDA) would need to take the lead to implement evidence-based policy decisions – policy changes that would have a profound impact on nutrition and obesity in the US.

To help make the case, the ADHS contracted with the ASU School of Nutrition & Health Promotion back in 2012 to write a White Paper that outlined evidence-based strategies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of SNAP including: 1) improving access to healthy foods to provide better choices; 2) incentivizing the purchase of healthy foods; 3) restricting access to unhealthy foods; and 4) maximizing education to more effectively reach a larger population of SNAP participants.

That paper, entitled Policy Considerations for Improving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Making a Case for Decreasing the Burden of Obesity. Back in 2012 the ADHS team presented the recommendations and evidence at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting that year.

This month the American Journal of Public Health published a paper on a similar topic entitled Support for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Policy Alternatives Among US Adults

The article measures public and participant support regarding some important policy options like removing sugary drinks and candy from the allowable products for purchase list and providing SNAP participants with a supplemental benefit that could only be used for fruits and vegetables. The authors found that most respondents approved of both the restrictive policies (e.g. removing sugar drinks and candy from the buy list) and the supplemental policies tested.

Important information for Congress and the USDA to consider when the Farm Bill comes up for re-authorization next time- which will be in a few years. Honestly, with the obesity epidemic we’re facing- we really should be using all the policy levers we can to dial back obesity- but congress and the USDA have consistently resisted these policy options- perhaps out of fear of the junk food lobby?