Snap Peas etc

Oh, SNAP – A Food Fight to Open Nutrition 2018

Leah Whigham, Nutrition 2018Yesterday’s opening session of Nutrition 2018, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, tackled the long-enduring debate about restricting choice in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Many arguments exist for – and just as many against – restricting choice for SNAP participants to healthy foods and beverages.

Marlene Schwartz did a fine job summarizing the main issues.


Foods come in so many forms and no one agrees on how to define “healthy.” Yet programs like WIC do it and there are technology advances that can help simplify the process.


Is it right to take choice away from people just because they have less ability to pay? Do we even know if SNAP participants eat a less healthy diet? Answer: we don’t know, and probably never will.


Will it even work, or will people just use their own money to buy the unhealthy foods anyway? SNAP does not cover all food costs.

Slippery Slope

Do you include all “unhealthy” foods, what definition do you use, and what about focusing on the whole diet? There are some scoring systems out there, but they are far from perfect. In addition, as soon as you start eliminating foods from SNAP, powerful lobbying groups will almost certainly move in.


The “N” in SNAP is for nutrition, but would a policy like this be a double standard since other government assistance programs don’t involve limited choices (e.g., educational grants, home mortgage interest deductions)


Limiting choices sends the signal to participants that they are not capable of making well-informed decisions and could decrease participation, leading to higher rates of food insecurity. On the other hand, could restrictions on the foods purchased with SNAP lead to an improvement in public opinion of the program?


Public health advocates and anti-hunger advocates are not always on the same side. Could this negative discourse simply provide politicians with fuel to justify shrinking the program?

Putting People First?

After all of this, a very important point came forward. No one is involving the people impacted the most in discussions of solutions, or studying the potential outcomes of those solutions.

A few gaps were evident in the ensuing discussion, including an assumption by some that sugar sweetened beverages are the primary culprit of unhealthy diets. Another assumption was that a general consensus about healthy eating is good enough. So we don’t need to measure outcomes and collect more data around some of these potential strategies. Anyone who tells a room full of scientists that data collection is unnecessary can expect a fierce argument.

For more on the pros and cons of this question, click here.

Today’s guest post comes from our good friend Leah Whigham, Executive Director of the Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living and a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Snap Peas etc, photograph © Emilie Rhaupp / flickr

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June 10, 2018

3 Responses to “Oh, SNAP – A Food Fight to Open Nutrition 2018”

  1. June 10, 2018 at 6:16 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Go, Leah!! This is such a helpful and succinct summary of a complicated and fraught issue.

    Thank you!!


  2. June 10, 2018 at 8:38 am, Leah Whigham said:

    Thanks, Joe.

  3. June 10, 2018 at 7:11 pm, Susie P said:

    Thank you for fighting for health. SNAP is often tough to deal with. Sadly too many people are not taught nutrition. Food companies push their empty calorie products with pizzazz while more nutritious products have little or no representation.

    So many healthy products are not covered. Even protein shakes are often not covered, even when the person has health issues that require them. Not all people even own a blender to create their own.

    Aside from potatoes, a lot of fruits and vegetables are too expensive…which is outrageous.

    The poor are often told to get a job, yet most are already working. While the super rich play golf and let their money work for them