By providing food security for millions of low-income Americans, SNAP is already delivering important public health benefits. But research also points to substantial opportunities for improving diet quality and health among SNAP recipients. Given the clear links that exist between nutrition, chronic disease, and rising health care costs, task force members believe these opportunities must not go untapped.
In 2017, the Bipartisan Policy Center launched a 13-member task force to explore strategies for promoting healthy nutrition through public programs and policies related to food and health.
The task force focused on opportunities to strengthen and improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which currently provides food assistance to more than 40 million Americans each month at an annual cost of approximately $70 billion. As the nation’s largest food program, SNAP and its predecessor, the Food Stamp Program, have played a vital role in alleviating hunger and poverty in the United States for decades.
While food security remains a key policy priority, recent years have also seen increased awareness of the direct link between diet quality and health—and growing concern about high rates of obesity and related chronic diseases in the United States.
These trends have many complex causes, among them a food environment that often promotes less nutritious choices and changing work-life demands that make it more difficult, especially for many low-income families, to access fresh ingredients and prepare healthy meals. Against this backdrop, states and the federal government, which together provide millions of Americans—including many SNAP recipients—with health care coverage through Medicaid and Medicare, are in a unique position to make a difference. Their efforts to increase nutrition awareness, promote a healthier food environment, and support better diet choices, especially among vulnerable populations, could have far-ranging benefits for all Americans with a shared stake in improving health outcomes and reducing health care costs.
By providing food security for millions of low-income Americans, SNAP is already delivering important public health benefits. But research also points to substantial opportunities for improving diet quality and health among SNAP recipients. Given the clear links that exist between nutrition, chronic disease, and rising health care costs, task force members believe these opportunities must not go untapped. We recognize that some of our proposals may be controversial and that broader and deeper changes will be needed over time to achieve a healthy food environment and healthy nutrition for all Americans.
Clearly, there is bipartisan interest in addressing the intertwined challenges of health and poverty, and broad support for the proposition that public programs should deliver maximum benefits. We are confident that these recommendations can provide a foundation for strengthening SNAP, SNAP-Education, and other federal programs in ways that improve nutrition, promote better health outcomes, and reduce health care costs while continuing to effectively meet the food assistance needs of America’s most vulnerable citizens.
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