Poll Finds Strong Support For Incentivizing Fruits & Vegetables For People On Food Stamps

WASHINGTON—A new poll released by the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit of 12, 000 doctors—finds strong support for focusing on healthful foods in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Congress is currently debating the farm bill, which authorizes the SNAP program.

  • The poll finds 80 percent agree that SNAP should emphasize foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains that prevent diabetes and other diet-related diseases. Support is highest—85 percent—among respondents in the Midwest and Mountain states. The poll of U.S. adults was completed by Lincoln Park Strategies.
  • Responding to a related question, 80 percent support a proposal to improve the health of SNAP participants by focusing on healthful dietary staples like fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains instead of soda, chips, meat, cheese, and energy drinks.
  • Proposed legislation that would give SNAP participants a higher benefit for purchases of fruits and vegetables gets support from 78 percent of respondents, with support the highest in the South including Texas. The legislation was introduced by U. S. Rep. Matt Cartwright.

Changes in the SNAP program are needed because according to the USDA, SNAP participants are more likely to be obese than income-eligible nonparticipants. They also have an increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes, compared to SNAP-eligible nonparticipants.

“As lawmakers discuss the farm bill, which authorizes SNAP, they should keep these poll results in mind,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee. “It sends a strong message that 80 percent of respondents would like SNAP to focus on fruits, veggies, and beans to bring down rates of diet-related diseases. And 78 percent show their commitment to this idea by supporting financial incentives for purchases of healthful food.”

One question the pollsters asked: “As you may already know, people who eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains have lower rates of diet-related diseases including diabetes and heart disease. Legislation being debated in Congress would give people on food stamps a higher benefit for purchases of fruits and vegetables. Would you support or oppose this type of incentive program?”

Earlier this year, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright introduced the SNAP Healthy Incentives Act, a bill that would create financial incentives for people on food stamps to purchase fruits and vegetables. This proposed legislation, based on a successful pilot program conducted in Massachusetts, is currently separate from the farm bill. 

In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the musician Moby, whose family relied on food stamps until he was 16, states, “Right now, a congressional arm-wrestling match is pitting those who want to preserve funding for SNAP against those who want to gut it. As I can attest from my childhood experience, SNAP really does help feed poor people, and no one wants to return to the days when America turned a blind eye to hunger. But it also puts a lot of unhealthful food on America’s plate. Its costs are huge, as are the added costs of treating diabetes, hypertension and other illnesses that poor eating habits cause.”

The American Medical Association recently passed a resolution requesting that “the federal government support SNAP initiatives to (a) incentivize healthful foods and disincentivize or eliminate unhealthful foods and (b) harmonize SNAP food offerings with those of WIC.”

Ms. Levin and Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., detailed the Healthy Staples plan for SNAP in “A Proposal for Improvements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

The Physicians Committee’s Healthy Staples plan is inspired by the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, which is based on foods deemed to provide good nutrition. When WIC began promoting more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, childhood obesity declined for participants, according to a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics.

The Physicians Committee has launched a new web page: www.MakeFoodStampsHealthy.org.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.

Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine