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News Article

Healthy eating unaffordable for most on US supplementary food assistance

88% of respondents reported barriers to healthy eating

A survey by USDA found that around 88% of Supplementary Food Assistance Program (SNAP) users report a barrier to eating healthily throughout the month. The barriers that associated with food insecurity were the cost of healthy food, lack of equipment and lack of storage facilities for meal preparation. The report suggests an expansion of educational programmes that improve skills in cooking with limited equipment and subsidies on healthy foods could address these problems.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: “Today’s report makes clear we still have work to do to ensure all Americans not only have food to eat, but access to nutritious foods.”



USDA reports nearly 41 million American rely on SNAP, including a high proportion of vulnerable people such as the disabled, children, and the elderly. The programme aims to improve food security and is the main nutrition assistance program in the country. The USDA is re-evaluating the Thrifty food plan and formula that are used to calculate benefits. The current plan was last revised in 2006 and the formula is more than 40 years old although it rises with inflation, according to USDA. The benefit currently averages out at $125.25 per person or $251.55 per household each month according to the survey report. The US government is providing additional assistance during the COVID pandemic as many more people have joined the program. This study was conducted before the pandemic.  


The survey

The findings are based on a survey of 5000 SNAP participants carried out in 2018. The study interviewed participants from 26 States. Respondents answered questions about their shopping habits, nutrition knowledge, food preparation practice, barriers to shopping for healthy foods. They were also asked if they ate a healthy diet, defined as eating food from all 5 food groups (fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein) and not eating too much saturated fat, salt, or sugar and the right number of calories.


Overall about one third of the households surveyed was food secure and 35% had very low food security.


The respondents identified the following barriers to eating healthy foods:

  • 61% reported healthy foods were unaffordable
  • 30% reported lack of time to prepare meals
  • 19% reported a lack of transport to the grocery store
  • 18% reported stores stocking health food were too far away
  • 16% reported lack of knowledge about food
  • 15% reported disability
  • 14% reported no storage place for foods.
  • 11% reported lack of equipment
  • 11% reported don’t know how to cook from scratch

After statistical analysis affordability, lack of equipment and lack of storage were significantly associated with food insecurity.



The report suggests that raising the SNAP allotments ‘may not be viable’ so alternative policies or programs might be needed. It suggests expanding SNAP-Ed the programme that teaches cooking skills using limited equipment, and managing a food budget. It also suggests expanding fruit and vegetable incentives programmes which subsidise fruit and vegetable purchases could make foods more affordable.


Find out more:

Search for: USA and (SNAP or "thrifty food plan")



Maeve Gearing, Sujata Dixit-Joshi, and Laurie May. Barriers that Constrain the Adequacy of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Allotments: Survey Findings. Report prepared by Westat, Inc. for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, June 2021.


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