US families that receive Supplemental Nutrtion Program assistance must balance multiple priorities to achieve a healthful diet

by Lisa Mancino and Joanne Guthrie

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which has the goal of assisting Americans to purchase an adequate diet, is the largest of the Federal food and nutrition assistance programs and served more than 47 million Americans each month in fiscal 2013. Evidence shows that SNAP benefits help alleviate poverty and food insecurity among participating households. However, like most Americans, the dietary patterns of participating households show room for improvement, with adult participants typically under-consuming fruits, whole grains, and other healthy foods while consuming too many empty calories. Findings from behavioral economics pilot studies suggest that the manner in which food choices are presented can influence consumers’ decisions. These insights may help design more effective strategies to encourage SNAP shoppers to make more healthful food choices.