Food Assistance Program Might Need Nutritional Boost

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program stores may not offer adequate healthy options in some areas


The US has programs in place to help people access food. But the food easily available in one such program might need a nutritional boost.

According to the authors of a new study, led by Melissa N. Laska, PhD, RD, of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, many low-income communities have limited access to supermarkets that offer a wide variety of healthy foods, and instead have greater access to smaller stores, which tend to offer more processed and high-calorie foods.

"Given that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition assistance to 42 million low-income Americans each month, finding mechanisms to improve the dietary patterns of SNAP participants through SNAP policy change has been a topic of much attention," Dr. Laska and colleagues wrote.

To examine the food offerings available, Dr. Laska and team looked at 91 randomly selected, licensed SNAP food stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The stores studied included corner stores, dollar stores, pharmacies and food-gas marts.

These researchers looked at the availability of healthy food items like milk, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain-rich foods.

These researchers found that 64 percent of the stores carried one or more types of fat-free or low-fat milk, 62 percent had fresh fruits, 93 percent had canned fruit or vegetables and 80 percent had whole grain-rich cereal. But, the researchers also found that only 31 percent of the stores had one or more types of fresh vegetables and only around a quarter of the stores had whole grain-rich products like tortillas, brown rice or bread.

The average weight of the fresh produce found was 13 pounds per store — or about 10 apples, 10 oranges and 10 bananas.

"USDA should consider requiring SNAP-authorized retailers to carry minimum quantities of healthy foods, including vegetables (particularly dark green and red and orange vegetables) and whole-grain–rich foods, as part of a comprehensive approach to nutrition promotion within the SNAP program," Dr. Laska and colleagues wrote.

This study only looked at one metropolitan area, and further research is needed.

This study was published online Aug. 27 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Disease.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.