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New study finds that it can be hard to eat healthy when relying on US food assistance programs

10 July 2021
USDA

Nearly nine out of 10 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants face barriers in providing their household with a healthy diet throughout the month, based on a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) study.

The study, Barriers that Constrain the Adequacy of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Allotments, conducted in 2018, finds that 88% of participants report encountering some type of hurdle to a healthy diet.

The most common, reported by 61% of SNAP participants, is the cost of healthy foods. Participants who reported struggling to afford nutritious foods were more than twice as likely to experience food insecurity. Other barriers range from a lack of time to prepare meals from scratch (30%) to the need for transportation to the grocery store (19%) to no storage for fresh or cooked foods (14%).

“No one in America should have to worry about whether they can put healthy food on the table for themselves or their children,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “[This] report makes clear we still have work to do to ensure all Americans not only have food to eat, but access to nutritious foods.”

“SNAP benefits are a nutrition lifeline for millions of Americans,” said Stacy Dean, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. “So it’s vital that the program helps enable participants to achieve a healthy diet amidst the real world challenges they face. The study findings released today indicate that we’re not yet there.”

USDA is dedicated to enhancing the nation’s food safety net, ensuring SNAP participants not only have enough to eat but also access to nutritious foods. As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill, the department is currently re-evaluating the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which is used to set SNAP benefit amounts.

Since it was first introduced in 1975, the value of the TFP has stayed the same, adjusting only for inflation. In the meantime, our understanding of nutrition has evolved significantly, and there have been major changes to the food supply, consumption patterns, and the circumstances of SNAP participants, resulting in an out-of-date food plan. The ongoing re-evaluation will help ensure the TFP affords families a realistic, healthy diet on a budget.

In good times and tough times, SNAP is the most far-reaching, powerful tool available to ensure that all Americans, regardless of background, can afford healthy food. Nearly 42 million Americans – a large portion of whom are children, people with disabilities, and the elderly – currently rely on SNAP benefits each month. Participating in SNAP has been shown to increase food security and have a positive impact on participants’ health.

The infographic can be downloaded here

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