Enrolment in SNAP or the supplemental nutrition assistance program has spiked in Pennsylvania, and has now reached record high numbers only beaten by those in the first months of the pandemic in 2020. Nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians are now enrolled in SNAP which should be an increasing concern for healthcare professionals and community leaders.
As it stands there’s been an increase of around 140,000 people using the program since March 2020. Increasing food prices, child tax credit ending are likely to be significant factors in this uptick. The only time these numbers have been higher, and barely higher, was during the lockdown months of 2020, and even then we’re talking around 5% difference. This is deeply concerning when it comes to nutrition levels of the general population, especially children. Nationally Pennsylvania has bucked the trend for SNAP enrolment and is one of only a handful of states to see such a dramatic rise, with national trends being level or declining.
Healthcare professionals are going to need to do everything that they can to help poorer families cope and The USDA, Center TRT, NCCOR and ASNNA have created this toolkit for states and healthcare professionals (SNAPEd Strategy Document), conversely SNAP recipients are at a higher risk of obesity which is the unfortunate reason that the SNAP obesity prevention toolkit needs to exist. Speaking to Dr Mark Watson of Center TRT he said “Both healthcare professionals and government administrators need to be acutely aware of the potential obesity risks that come along with SNAP program upswings, particularly in groups of adult females. Preventative measures should be taken as soon as possible to avoid making the obesity epidemic worse, and contributing to an increased risk of strained healthcare services and further costs to the health of Americans”.
Dr Watson continued “it’s particularly important that those with children, especially those in elementary school, are given the tools they need to cope with strained food resources and make sur that healthy eating habits are established early in childhood. As such we recommend that the state look to implementing a health bucks strategy in combination with it’s SNAP program”.
NB Health Bucks is an evidence based strategy designed to promote healthy eating by giving SNAP recipients extra “health bucks” to spend at farmers markets and other healthy food suppliers. You can find more information about healthbucks implementation strategies here where Center TRT provide a useful webinar and links to the evaluation toolkits and NY States example program.
“It will become increasingly important to work with community leaders to help promote healthy lifestyles before we have severe issues, poverty rates and obesity go hand in hand, and we need the healthcare profession, the government and our community leaders to work together to handle this.”
Shockingly nearly half of the adult US population is obese but, when studied most people did not believe obese silhouette to be obese, whereas in other countries such as Spain the general population was mostly accurate at predicting obesity using the silhouette testing model. Which also suggests that a large part of the population needs education on what a healthy weight is, particularly beyond the capacity of BMI and to look more towards healthy body fat percentages.
In short with a raise in SNAP, as healthcare professionals we need to be aware of a looming obesity epidemic and prepare both ourselves and the system to handle and prevent it as best we can.
1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4580337/ – The Relationship Between Obesity and Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Is Mental Health a Mediator?
2 – https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity – Overweight & Obesity Statistics