Quality of diet still poor for SNAP participants

BOSTON (June 15, 2018, 11:00 a.m. ET)—A new Food-PRICE study finds persistent nutritional disparities within the food choices of those receiving assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) compared to those not receiving SNAP assistance. The study is published today in JAMA Network Open.

Led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, the study examined the dietary patterns of SNAP recipients with two comparison groups, those whose income qualifies them for SNAP but choose not to participate, and those whose income is higher than the SNAP guidelines.

The study represents the characteristics of 25.5 million adult SNAP participants, 26.9 million income-eligible nonparticipants, and 158.7 million higher-income U.S. adults. The team used data for U.S. adults aged 20 years and older who had completed at least one valid 24-hour diet recall during eight two-year cycles of National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES), through 2014.

Based on the American Heart Association (AHA) 2020 Strategic Impact Goals for diet, the research team created a summary score reflecting a diet quality of poor, intermediate, or ideal. A ‘poor diet’ corresponded to less than 40 percent adherence to the AHA 2020 goals; an ‘intermediate diet’ to 40 to 79.9 percent adherence and an ‘ideal diet’ to 80 percent or greater adherence.

Greater consumption of fruits/vegetables, fish/shellfish, whole grains, and nuts/seeds/legumes and lower consumption of sugary-sweetened beverages, sodium, processed meat, and saturated fat contributed to a better diet score.

For the 2003-2004 to 2013-2014 survey group, the average diet score among SNAP participants did not significantly improve. During the same period, however, the average AHA diet score significantly improved in both income-eligible nonparticipants and higher-income individuals.

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