SNAP benefits are not enough to provide a healthy diet, study says

Research showed SNAP benefits were insufficient in meeting the needs of older children, younger women or men of any age.
By Amy Wallace  |  Sept. 7, 2017 at 2:11 PM
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Sept. 7 (UPI) -- A new study from North Carolina State University found that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits may not be enough for a healthy diet.

The study, published in the September edition of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, found SNAP benefits only cover 43 to 60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet that fulfills federal guidelines for a healthy diet.

"The federal government has defined what constitutes a healthy diet, and we wanted to know how financially feasible it was for low-income households, who qualify for SNAP benefits, to follow these guidelines," Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, an assistant professor of agricultural and human sciences at NC State, said in a press release.

Researchers analyzed the cost to follow federal dietary guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's monthly retail price data from 2015 for fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and proteins.

The amount of benefits vary based on household income and family size, and dietary requirements vary based on age and gender.

"We found significant variability in the costs associated with following federal dietary guidelines," Haynes-Maslow said. "For example, it was most expensive to consume only fresh produce, and it was least expensive to consume a vegetarian diet. Many low-income households simply don't have an additional $500 or $600 to spend on food in their monthly budget."

The study did show that SNAP benefits were enough to cover the cost of healthy dietary needs for children under the age of 8 and women over the age of 51, but was not enough to cover healthy dietary needs for older children, younger women and men of any age.

"Even though SNAP is not designed to cover all of the cost of food -- it's meant to be a supplemental food program -- this study makes it clear that there would be many low-income households that would not be able to cover the gap needed to eat a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines," Haynes Maslow said. "Even without including labor costs, a household of four would need to spend approximately $200-$300 in addition to their SNAP benefits to follow the dietary guidelines."

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