In a just-released research brief, the Food Research and Action Center outlines how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program plays a big role in not only alleviating hunger, but improving health, especially among children.
Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP is designed as the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, and has played a critical role in reducing hunger among millions of Americans. But because so many of the most vulnerable Americans also are more likely to lack access to healthy and affordable food, SNAP also plays a big role in improving dietary intake.
“Research clearly shows the importance of SNAP in improving and protecting health,” says Heather Hartline-Grafton, DrPH, RD, and senior nutrition policy analyst at FRAC. “Which is why increasing access to the program and increasing benefits is critical to improving the public’s health.”
The consequences of food insecurity are “especially detrimental to the health, development and well-being of children,” according to FRAC’s research. Food insecurity has been linked to low birth weight, birth defects, iron deficiency, more frequent illness, mental health problems and even poor educational outcomes.
But food insecure people are also more likely to have poor nutrition habits and be obese, since they often lack access to healthy food or opportunities for physical activity and often find themselves in cycles of food deprivation and overeating, have high levels of stress, are exposed to more marketing for unhealthy food and have limited access to health care, according to FRAC.
That’s where SNAP can help. Young, food insecure children who participated in SNAP had fewer hospital visits than comparable non-participants and were less likely to be in poor or fair health, research shows. Another study finds that early exposure to SNAP in childhood leads to “favorable impacts on metabolic and economic outcomes in adulthood.”
One study of 772 low-income families found that food insecure girls participating in school lunch, school breakfast or SNAP programs (or all three) had a lower risk of becoming overweight compared to low-income girls not enrolled in the programs.
In addition, national food consumption data finds that SNAP dollars increase a household’s overall dietary quality. In fact, two Institute of Medicine reports suggested increasing participation in federal nutrition programs such as SNAP to help prevent childhood obesity.
Click here to read the research brief SNAP and Public Health: The Role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Improving the Health and Well-Being of Americans.
Click here to connect with Heather Hartline-Grafton.