Farm Bill Keeps Food Stamp Participants at Risk of Death from Chronic Disease

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WASHINGTON—The House has passed the long-delayed farm bill, which is expected to reach the president’s desk by Friday. The final bill does little to fight obesity, heart disease, and diabetes which disproportionally devastates participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, says the nonprofit Physicians Committee.

The Physicians Committee has advocated that the House and Senate introduce the Healthy Staples plan as a farm bill amendment. Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the plan would improve the health of SNAP participants by subsidizing participating grocers who supply healthful foods: grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, and basic multiple vitamins.

Participants choosing solely from the Healthy Staples plan would likely get about twice the fiber, iron, and calcium than those following a typical American diet. A Healthy Staples participant would also consume 65 percent less fat and 85 percent less saturated fat, and essentially zero cholesterol.

“The farm bill that’s headed to the president’s desk continues to put the health of tens of millions of SNAP recipients at risk,” says Physicians Committee director of nutrition education Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “The Healthy Staples plan could have helped to end the diet disparity that’s causing SNAP participants to suffer disproportionally from obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.”

According to the USDA, SNAP participants are more likely to be obese than income-eligible nonparticipants. They also have an increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes, compared to SNAP-eligible nonparticipants. A recent Tufts University study finds that SNAP participants eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more processed meat than those not receiving SNAP assistance.

In May, the Physicians Committee released a poll that found 80 percent of respondents agreed that SNAP should focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains instead of soda, chips, meat, cheese, and energy drinks. The American Medical Association has asked the USDA to incentivize healthful foods and discourage or eliminate unhealthful foods from SNAP.

The current farm bill does significantly strengthen the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program, renamed the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption.

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Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.

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