USDA’s America’s Harvest Box is Step Toward Addressing SNAP Nutrition Deficiencies

Physicians Committee’s Healthy Staples Plan Provides Greater Choice of Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Beans

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Make SNAP Healthier with Healthy Staples Plan

WASHINGTON--()--America’s Harvest Box, proposed in the president’s FY2019 budget request, is a step toward ensuring that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants get the grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit they need to stay healthy, says the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The doctors group recommends Congress consider this proposal and look to refine the program along the lines of the Physicians Committee’s Healthy Staples plan, which would provide SNAP participants greater choice of healthful foods.

The budget request proposes that more than 80 percent of SNAP recipients would receive a monthly America’s Harvest Box with items such as juice, grains, ready-eat-cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruits and vegetables, which would replace about half of their current SNAP benefits. The remaining SNAP benefits would go on debit cards to be used in grocery stores.

“It’s great to see the USDA recognize that SNAP is lacking basic nutritional requirements, which is exacerbating obesity, heart disease, and diabetes among the millions of Americans who rely on this critical program. America’s Harvest Box is a positive sign that the USDA is aware of the growing problem, and this is a good move to the extent it focuses on a healthier SNAP,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee. “Our Healthy Staples plan takes that idea to the next level by allowing participants to choose from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. Also, these foods can be provided at any store, without the home delivery component detailed in the president’s budget.”

Each month, SNAP provides nutrition assistance to 44 million low-income individuals. Two-thirds of SNAP participants are children, elderly, or adults with disabilities. But SNAP isn’t currently set up to help them get the good nutrition they need.

Forty-four percent of adult SNAP participants are obese, versus 33 percent for nonparticipants at the same income level nonparticipants. They also have an increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes, compared to SNAP-eligible nonparticipants.

Levin and Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., detailed Healthy Staples in “A Proposal for Improvements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The Physicians Committee’s Healthy Staples plan is inspired by the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, which is based on foods deemed to provide good nutrition. When WIC began promoting more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, childhood obesity declined for participants, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics.

SNAP participants choosing solely from Healthy Staples would likely get more than twice the fiber, iron, vitamin E, and folate; almost twice the potassium, calcium, and magnesium; almost 40 percent more vitamin D; and more than five times more beta-carotene than those following a typical American diet. A Healthy Staples participant would also consume 65 percent less fat and 85 percent less saturated fat, and the excess of 250 milligrams of cholesterol consumed daily would be reduced to essentially zero.

Earlier this year, the American Medical Association also asked the USDA to incentivize healthful foods and discourage or eliminate unhealthful foods.

To speak to Ms. Levin or Dr. Barnard, please contact or 202-527-7416.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.


Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Jeanne S. McVey, 202-527-7316


Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Jeanne S. McVey, 202-527-7316