SNAP and Nutrition
SNAP has long been connected with nutrition. In 1990, the Food Stamp Act was amended to include a provision for an optional nutrition education program to be paired with the distribution of food stamps; thus the first SNAP Education program was born. Since then, the federal government and the states have taken steps to teach SNAP beneficiaries about how to buy low-cost, healthy foods and live healthier lives. The SNAP Education component has grown particularly rapidly within the last few years, and the title of the program was changed from Food Stamps to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008 to reflect the program’s shift in emphasis towards nutrition.
At the same time, the rise in obesity and chronic disease rates in the United States has led some to question whether SNAP is doing all it can to encourage healthy eating—or whether it may even be encouraging bad eating habits. Some health advocates say that SNAP beneficiaries tend to use their benefits to buy unhealthy foods because they are cheaper, easier to access, and advertised more readily. Others argue that giving people SNAP benefits just encourages them to buy more food than they normally would. And still others think SNAP doesn’t supply adequate benefits for its users to make healthy food choices.
The fact that SNAP promotes food purchases but without any nutritional requirements (in contrast to WIC), has led to a movement to change how the program is run. There are many ways to make SNAP more nutritious for its clients: increase the number of farmers’ markets that accept SNAP benefits; offer SNAP users cash incentives when they buy healthy items like fruits and vegetables and make it easier for SNAP clients to find the nutrition information for a variety of foods. Several areas—including New York City—have tried to restrict the ability to purchase certain items (like soda) with SNAP benefits. Here we’ve collected some of the background information on SNAP and nutrition to support a more informed discussion on where SNAP should go in the future and what barriers stand in the way for it to get there.
Federal nutrition education programs through food stamps first began in 1990, when states were given the option of accepting matching funds from the USDA to conduct nutrition education programs for food stamps beneficiaries. The first food stamps education programs were held in seven states in 1992 at a cost of $661,000 to the federal government. By 2007, nutrition education had expanded to all 52 states and territories participating in food stamps. In 2014, total appropriations for SNAP-Ed reached $401 million.
Today, the nutritional education component of food stamps (now called SNAP-Ed) is still a crucial part of SNAP. The program remains optional, but states are strongly encouraged to participate. Interested states submit an annual SNAP-Ed plan to the USDA that includes a proposal for educational activities and a corresponding budget. Approved plans are reimbursed for half of the required funds. The Federal Nutrition Service also publishes a SNAP-Ed Plan Guidance to assist states in developing their educational programs; the Plan follows federal nutrition guidelines, with a focus on healthy diet, physical activity, and balanced caloric intake instruction. The ultimate goal of SNAP-Ed is to promote healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors to reduce the likelihood of long-term health damage and chronic disease.
SNAP-Ed programs continue to operate through Implementing Organizations. Today, more than 100 organizations provide nutrition education in partnership with SNAP, including cooperative extensions, community health agencies, universities, and state health departments. SNAP-Ed programs are also sponsored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which facilitates communication between federal, state, and local partners, and assists in the development of education programs.
Useful Links for SNAP-ED
- SNAP-Ed Homepage
- 2016 SNAP Education Guidance Plan
- SNAP-Ed Connection, the Federal government’s online library of SNAP-Ed resources
- Nutrition Education and Training Materials
- State SNAP-Ed Contact Information
- SNAP-Ed Resource library
- Tools for developing SNAP-Ed programs
- Evaluation of three SNAP-Ed demonstration projects
Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program
In 2010, as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the SNAP-Ed national funding and guidelines were changed to improve the effectiveness of the program. The law requires SNAP-Ed to:
- Promote healthy food choices consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Provide coordinated services to participants in all Federal food assistance programs
- Coordinate among Federal agencies and stakeholders, including the public health community
- Hold activities that are evidence-based and outcome driven, ensuring accountability and transparency
The law went into effect in 2013. The federal government has agreed to provide 100% funding for SNAP-Ed programs with a national cap of $375 million. For more information, click here.
USDA/Food and Nutrition Service. (2010). Nutrition Education and Promotion: The Role of FNS in Helping Low-IncomeFamilies Make Healthier Eating and Lifestyle Choices. Retrieved from: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NutritionEdRTC.pdf
“Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) FY 2014 Allocation.” USDA.gov. USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 6 Mar. 2014.