Do U.S. Nutrition Assistance Programs Promote Obesity? Nutrition

Food insecurity is generally defined as inconsistent or lack of access to food.  In most parts of the world people who experience food insecurities are underweight and appear malnourished, however food insecurities in the U.S are not as obvious.  Individuals suffering from food insecurities in the U.S. are often over-weight or obese and frequently enrolled in governmental assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP.  Enrollment in these government assistance programs often means unrestricted access to calorie dense and nutrient deplete foods.  Recent studies highlight the obvious link between obesity and low socioeconomic status in the U.S…  Which brings us to the question, do U.S. food policies promote obesity, especially among individuals of low socioeconomic status?

Mandated by Congress to be reviewed every 5-years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide food-based nutrition guidance for Americans ages two (2) years and older to help promote overall health and reduce the risk of disease and obesity.  This policy document produced jointly by he U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the cornerstone of nutrition policy in the U.S.  These guidelines encourage Americans to focus on eating a healthful diet – one that focuses on foods and beverages that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease.  It would make sense that underlying nutrition assistance programs would follow suit…

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and previously known as the Food Stamp program is the largest nutrition assistance program, providing resources to low-income individuals for the purchase of eligible food to prepare nutritious meals.  The program prohibits the purchase of dietary supplements such as multivitamins and calcium with vitamin D, while it permits the unrestricted purchase of junk foods/beverages such as soda, potato chips, cookies, pastries, candy and other calorie dense snack foods.  Kinda crazy right…. well what if I told you my new research shows that low-income individuals are more micronutrient insufficient as compared to middle- and high- income individuals in the U.S…  This research kind of makes the case for including dietary supplements in nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC while cutting the junk food and snacks. Nutrition assistance programs should be encouraging consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seafood, and lean meats, much like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Even though restrictions on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) have become much more stringent under the Obama administration, mostly through the efforts of the First Lady, many children still routinely dine on pizza, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, pastas, flavored milk, sugary cereals, and other unhealthy calorie dense foods.  Even though NSLP and SBP now serve more healthy options, children still opt for the unhealthier foods/beverages.

Obesity accounts for a 42% decrease in life expectancy of women and 67% decrease in men.  Obesity related illnesses increase healthcare spending by over $190 billion annually.  Isn’t it time to crack the whip on nutrition assistance programs in the U.S.?  Let’s take a stand!


  1. Rebecca Noel Says: March 19, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Your research is spot on. One of the problems is that the food giants have realized what a “cash cow” the food assistance programs have become. Many of our congresspeople, when lobbied by these food giants, have gotten their products included in the federal assistance approved foods.

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