Led by researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, a new JAMA study shows that an additional $40 per month for SNAP recipients significantly increased the purchase of healthy food options for people with food insecurity.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Food insecurity is associated with a less healthy diet. Use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly referred to as food stamps, is associated with lower food insecurity, although it is unclear whether recipients can purchase enough healthy foods. So the National Institute of Food and Agriculture sponsored the creation of SuperSNAP, which provides SNAP recipients an additional $40 per month to purchase fruits and vegetables without added sugar, sodium, or fat.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied the effects of SuperSNAP, which is run through Reinvestment Partners out of Durham, North Carolina, to see if the extra money translates to buying more healthy foods, paving the way for better health outcomes.
Posted in JAMA Network is openIn the first eight months of the program, researchers found, not only did SuperSNAP participants purchase more healthy foods with the additional $40, they also significantly increased their overall purchases of healthy foods with SNAP benefits.
“Our goal now is to find out whether healthy food incentive programs improve health outcomes,” said first author Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, MPH, associate professor of general medicine and epidemiology at UNC School of Medicine. “We will investigate this very soon with a much larger study.”
Berkowitz, lead author Xu Wen Ng, PhD, a distinguished researcher in the Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the University of North Carolina, and colleagues used data from the transaction records of a large supermarket chain of nearly 500 stores located across North Carolina from October 2019 to April 2020. All participants were SNAP beneficiaries.
The researchers analyzed monthly expenditures on all fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. spending on less healthy food categories; Spending on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The study included 667 SuperSNAP participants and 33,246 SNAP recipients who did not use SuperSNAP but shopped in the same stores; 436 SuperSNAP participants had pre-intervention data and it was included in the main analysis.
SuperSNAP participation was associated with increased monthly purchases of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, and decreased monthly purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages. There was only a slight increase in spending on the least healthy food categories compared to SNAP recipients who did not use SuperSNAP.
As overall spending increased, the proportion of total spending on foods and beverages on less healthy foods decreased significantly, and monthly spending on sugar-sweetened beverages also decreased.
“Changing our diets to be healthier is difficult even when we have enough money and time to cook our meals with fresh ingredients,” Berkowitz said. “But when you have less time and money – as is the case with many food insecure individuals – it becomes more difficult to buy and prepare fresh, healthy meals. We believe this leads to worse health outcomes. Intervention before people get sick is a public health imperative. SuperSNAP may be one way to help food-insecure individuals.”
Ng added, “COVID-19 has created more challenges for low-income families to access healthy foods. By providing these targeted benefits of fruits and vegetables without additives, it is possible to provide targeted support to families wanting to eat better especially during economically challenging times. As SuperSNAP continues, we are eager to see if participants will continue to purchase healthier baskets of foods and how long-term health outcomes may be affected.”
United Nations University School of Medicine: Mark Derwich