Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Scientific American on SNAP (food stamp) improvements

From Lynne Peeples at Scientific American Online:
A growing number of local programs from Boston to San Diego are trying to make healthier foods more appealing and affordable for low-income families—the population of Americans who are most reliant on food stamps, and most likely to be obese. Meanwhile, public health researchers are looking hard at the federal food stamp program itself, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They're questioning why the long-standing strategy for helping the hungry may, in some cases, actually be hurting their health by packing on extra pounds. But could a few simple changes transform SNAP into a powerful vehicle for curbing obesity?
One of the possible changes -- worth study in a pilot, I should say, not necessarily full rollout -- is twice monthly benefit delivery through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card:
Participants themselves have suggested that the change could help them spread out their grocery shopping and keep adequate food around through the month, notes Parke Wilde, an agricultural economist at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston and lead author of the shopping cycle paper. "It's just a little change in the environment that still gives people freedom [to shop as often as they want], yet gives them a slightly different sense of the default behavior," he says. "I'm always surprised that there's not more interest in the idea."


Derrill Watson said...

Oh please. I do hope they go through with this one. From a behavioral economics standpoint, it would have been a great boon when my wife was a child, as her family was in a tight binge-starvation cycle.

I'm less hopeful that the answer lies in subsidies for healthy foods. However, expanding WIC to fruits and vegetables would have a similar effect to a subsidy without creating as many income-substitution problems.

Ashley said...

There is also a pilot program happening now through an organization called Wholesome Wave which doubles the value of each food stamp dollar at local farmers markets. Their website is (wholesomewave.org) This makes fruits and vegetables a better deal than grocery store packaged and processed foods. The only downfall is that it is a privately funded group and relies heavily on donations from the community.

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