Dr Neal Barnard Tells Government: Make Food Stamp Program More Plant-Based

Eating more fruit, veggies and grains could improve health levels
Dr Neal Barnard is a highly influential plant-based physician (Photo: Twitter)

Plant-based physician Dr Neal Barnard has taken part in a move by the American Medical Association [AMA] to call on the federal government to improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] - formerly known as Food Stamps.

The AMA has requested the federal government supports 'SNAP initiatives to incentivize healthful foods and disincentivize or eliminate unhealthful foods'.

During the AMA House of Delegates meeting in Chicago on June 11, Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., testified on behalf of the resolution.

He said: "Economically disadvantaged patients are at the highest risk diabetes, obesity, and other serious problems. A big part of the solution ought to come from SNAP. 

"One in seven Americans participates in SNAP, and if the program filled their grocery carts with vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, it would go a long way for health.

"But SNAP retailers are paid dollar-for-dollar for candy, energy drinks, sausage, cheese, and other products no-one needs."

Financial incentives

Dr. Barnard and Yale University’s David Katz, M.D., recently edited the The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Role in Addressing Nutrition-Related Health Issues, a special supplement of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

In the supplement, Dr. Barnard recommended that SNAP incorporate a Healthy Staples program, whereby SNAP would only reimburse retailers for selling healthful foods. 

They would stop profiting from selling their customers disease-causing junk foods, instead, retailers would offer a range of healthful plant-based foods (with preparation tips and easy meal ideas): grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, pasta, and tortillas; fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables; dry or low-sodium canned beans; fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, and basic multiple vitamins.

Eating and health

Data shows over half of SNAP benefits - 55 per cent in fact - are used for foods like meats, fizzy drinks, prepared foods and desserts, cheese, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.

In comparison, only 24 per cent is used for fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and spices.

A study by The US Department of Agriculture [USDA] in 2015 compared SNAP participants with income-eligible nonparticipants. The research showed that SNAP participants had poorer overall diet quality and consumed more calories from solid fats, added sugars, soda, and alcohol and consumed fewer vegetables and fruits. 

These nutritional differences were deemed responsible for the higher obesity rates among SNAP participants.

In addition, further research - published in the American Journal of Public Health - has shown that SNAP participants have an increased risk of death from heart disease and three times the diabetes mortality rate when compared to income-ineligible nonparticipants. 


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