SNAP Shoppers: Poor Quality Diets and Unwilling to Change

March 11, 2015

The USDA Economic Research Service recently reported in Amber Waves, that motivating Americans to make healthful dietary changes continues to be a challenge.

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) recently reported in Amber Waves that motivating Americans to make dietary changes continues to be a challenge

Research has shown that participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) tend to consume lower quality diets than nonparticipants. Pessimism about the value of dietary change may be one of the culprits. It’s important to note that, in fiscal 2013, on a monthly basis, SNAP served more than 47 million Americans.

Analysis of responses to questions in the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey portion of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that 40 percent of SNAP participants indicated that they felt no need to change their diets; in contrast, only 25 percent of higher income shoppers felt no need to make dietary changes. (Higher income are those with household incomes above 185 percent of the Federal poverty threshold.)

In addition, SNAP participants were also more likely than other respondents to agree with the statement "some people are born to be fat and some thin; there is not much you can do to change this.” This may indicate differences in perceptions of self-efficacy among SNAP participants compared to higher income shoppers.

Stores looking to improve messaging to their shoppers, especially those with a large portion on SNAP, should rethink marketing angles. For example, to help increase the quality of the diet in participants, the focus should be on health, energy, and pain management rather than weight, since weight loss might not be a primary goal. Offering in store health screens, which allow shoppers to truly understand where they stand in the health spectrum, along with healthy shopping lists and easy recipes might help facilitate change in this population.

USDA ERS also postulates that it may be other stresses of living in poverty that make maintaining diet and health as a top priority more difficult.

The Lempert Report believes it will take listening to shoppers’ health desires to find targeted and impactful messaging that will strike a chord with the type of shoppers that visit your store and consume your products.