“SNAP encourages the consumption of fatty meats and cheeses, sugary snacks, and sodas by giving them the same value as healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.”
It’s not like program officials aren’t aware that SNAP participants—along with the rest of America!—could improve the nutritional quality of their grocery purchases. To that end, USDA has authorized $20 million for its Health Incentives Pilot to evaluate whether Point of Sale (P.O.S.) programs can motivate recipients to purchase healthful foods. And if it works, it ought to be rolled out to the entire country.
“The [current] system perpetuates the ‘food desert’ problem by encouraging grocers to stock foods that are the most processed and have the longest shelf life. Healthy Basics would incentivize grocers to stock healthy foods.”
Grocers stock foods for three reasons: To maximize the profitability of shelf and case space; to support their brand positioning; and to offer specific products known to be favored by their most loyal clientele. Few—if any—plan their merchandising mix on the basis of SNAP recipients’ alleged preferences.
“[Reform] would improve the health of SNAP participants . . . cut long-term health care costs by reducing the prevalence of diet-related disease in low-income populations . . . and save taxpayers nearly $255 billion over 10 years.”
Since total SNAP expenditures in 2010 were about $65 billion, a reduction of about $25 billion in annual program costs would be massive and could only be accomplished by slashing participation and benefits. It’s ridiculous to argue that fruits and vegetables could provide “so much more nutrition” than the broader range of choices USDA recommends.
About as ridiculous as imagining that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has anything to do with medical issues.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.