Federal nutrition program does not increase childhood obesity risk

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1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants have similar rates of obesity to low-income nonparticipants.

2. SNAP participants consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and high-fat dairy products than non-SNAP participants.

3. However, both low-income groups (SNAP participants and nonparticipants) had less vegetable, fruit, and dietary fiber intake than national recommendations. 

This study evaluates nutrition outcomes of participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), focusing specifically on the health of children aged 4 to 19 years.  The data presented show that more than one third of low-income children are overweight or obese, but that participation in the SNAP program was not associated with a greater risk of obesity. Dietary recall did, however, show greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and high-fat dairy products in SNAP participants relative to low-income nonparticipants. This study may be limited in that it does not assess access to healthy foods, and because it relies heavily on retrospective dietary recall. However, based on their findings, the authors suggest re-evaluating foods eligible for purchase through SNAP to support healthier food choices.

Click to read the study in Pediatrics

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Image: PD

1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants have similar rates of obesity to low-income nonparticipants.

2. SNAP participants consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and high-fat dairy products than non-SNAP participants.

3. However, both low-income groups (SNAP participants and nonparticipants) had less vegetable, fruit, and dietary fiber intake than national recommendations. 

This [retrospective] study evaluated diets of 5193 children (4-19 years) with household incomes < 130% of federal poverty limits, using survey data from 1999 through 2008. Among the 27.9% who participated in SNAP, 18.7% were overweight and 17.5% were obese. When compared with non-SNAP low-income children, there was no increased association with obesity for SNAP participants (OR = 0.95, CI: 0.71 – 1.74). Dietary quality was evaluated using 24-hour dietary recall, either in person or by phone 3-10 days later, with no difference found in dietary quality between SNAP participants and non-participants. Both groups consumed less than one serving per day of fruit, vegetable, and grains; none of the children met all national 10 dietary recommendations. SNAP participants consumed 8% more folate, 8% more calcium, 7% more iron, and 4 times as much water, but 43% more sugar-sweetened beverages, 44% more processed meats, and 47% more high-fat dairy products than non-participants.

In sum: The data presented show that more than one third of low-income children are overweight or obese, but that participation in the SNAP program was not associated with a greater risk of obesity. Dietary recall did, however, show greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and high-fat dairy products in SNAP participants relative to low-income nonparticipants. This study may be limited in that it does not assess access to healthy foods, and because it relies heavily on retrospective dietary recall. However, based on their findings, the authors suggest re-evaluating foods eligible for purchase through SNAP to support healthier food choices.

Click to read the study in Pediatrics

By Emilia Hermann and Devika Bhushan

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