Food stamps, food security and public health: lessons from Minnesota

Food stamps, food security and public health: lessons from Minnesota

Why do some people in the US continue to struggle with inadequate food supplies?

Since the late 1930s, the United States government has recognised hunger and malnutrition as a condition that affects people at all income levels, inside and outside of their homes. Today’s government continues to recognise and act upon the need for food and nutrition support systems. Federal food assistance and nutrition programmes currently include the Food Stamp Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the National School Lunch Program and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.

Using the Food Stamp Program as a case study, this paper examines why, despite food assistance and nutrition programs, people continue to struggle with adequate and nutritious food supplies.

The Food Stamp Program was established to provide supplemental resources to assist households with supplies of core dietary necessities. In 2006, an average of 26.7 million individuals per month used food stamps throughout the United States. However, the author argues that due to misconceptions and stigmatisation around the scheme and other barriers, participants represent only a portion of those eligible for the programme.

Challenges facing those who do enrol in the Food Stamp Program are identified as:

  • low funding and benefit levels
  • a lack of resources limiting outreach and education
  • a lack of efficiency and availability

Accessibility, affordability and policy barriers are also highlighted as systemic barriers.

The paper concludes that an adequate and appropriate food supply for every person, household, and family is a public health issue. The author argues that in the short-term it is critical to ensure that all food assistance and nutrition programs have adequate funding to deliver the benefits people need. In the longer-term, however, the move toward food security must involve local agriculture, local economies, public policies, and an investment to improve the quality of life when working with community development.

The following recommendations are made for ensuring that food assistance and nutrition programmes both deliver immediate benefits and help achieve long-term food security:

  • address the larger drivers of food security
  • make local foods part of food assistance programs
  • ensure nutrition education considers food access
  • address barriers to participation in food assistance programs
  • support healthy food initiatives
  • develop public policy to support food security