A new study from North Carolina State University and the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, only covers 43-60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines for what constitutes a healthy diet. The study highlights the challenges lower-income households face in trying to eat a healthy diet.
“The federal government has defined what constitutes a healthy diet, and we wanted to know how financially feasible it was for low-income households, who qualify for SNAP benefits, to follow these guidelines,” says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of a paper on the study and an assistant professor of agricultural and human sciences at NC State.
This can be a tricky question to answer, as federal dietary guidelines vary based on age and gender. SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and the number of adults and children living in the household. For the purposes of this study, the researchers used average monthly SNAP benefits for 2015.
To address their research question, the researchers looked at the cost to follow federal dietary guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly retail price data from 2015 for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. They calculated costs under a variety of scenarios. For example, what would it cost to comply with dietary guidelines if one only ate produce that was fresh, not frozen? What if one only consumed fruits and vegetables that were frozen? What if a household followed a vegetarian diet? The researchers also included labor costs associated with shopping and preparing meals, based on 2010 estimates produced by other economics researchers.
“We found significant variability in the costs associated with following federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes-Maslow says. “For example, it was most expensive to consume only fresh produce, and it was least expensive to consume a vegetarian diet.”
To place this in context, consider a four-person household that has one adult male, one adult female, one child aged 8-11 and one child aged 12-17 – all of whom qualify for SNAP benefits. They would need to spend $626.95 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits if they ate only fresh produce as part of their diet. That same household would need to spend $487.39, in addition, to SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet.
“Many low-income households simply don’t have an additional $500 or $600 to spend on food in their monthly budget,” Haynes-Maslow says.
The researchers did find that SNAP is sufficient to meet the healthy dietary needs of two groups: children under the age of 8 and women over the age of 51. However, SNAP was insufficient to meet the needs of older children, younger women, or men of any age.
“Even though SNAP is not designed to cover all of the cost of food – it’s meant to be a supplemental food program – this study makes it clear that there would be many low-income households that would not be able to cover the gap needed to eat a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes Maslow says. “Even without including labor costs, a household of four would need to spend approximately $200-$300 in addition to their SNAP benefits to follow the dietary guidelines.”
Food Delivery Businesses Showing Up For People Right Now
At difficult times like these, Fred Rogers followed his mother’s sage advice:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
That’s certainly been one of the few bright spots amidst the coronavirus pandemic—people and businesses of all sorts stepping up to help. Many of us have been reminded, in dramatic fashion, just how important our nurses, grocery store workers, and restaurant workers truly are.
Sure, there are still scammers out there, looking to make a buck in a tough situation for many. The food delivery industry has its fair share of heroes and opportunists, just like any sector.
To help you sort through your options, here’s a handy list of food delivery companies that have stepped up their game during the COVID-19 crisis and a bit about how they’ve done so.
These Food Delivery Companies Have Stepped Up Their Support During The Crisis
Doesn’t food just taste better when someone else has lovingly made it for you?
While practicing social distancing, getting delicious food delivered to your door can be one of those simple pleasures. Ordering out safely and ethically can be tricky though.
Here are some delivery services and restaurants that are changing the way they do business amidst the crisis to better support workers and customers alike:
To protect their “Dashers,” the company is shipping 1 million sets of hand sanitizer and gloves as well as offering guidance for contactless delivery (now the company’s default) to help them stay safe. DoorDash has also offered an additional $100 million of targeted commission relief to help small restaurants with five or fewer locations.
If an Instacart worker is placed under mandatory quarantine or diagnosed with COVID-19, the company offers up to two weeks’ pay. The policy was initially only valid through mid-March but the company has now extended the offer through early May. Instacart is also allowing their in-store shoppers to accrue sick leave as well.
The company continues to be in negotiations with its workers about the best ways to support them during the crisis.
They’re doing no-contact delivery and they’ve set up a relief fund to assist employees with medical costs related to COVID-19. The company is providing two weeks of paid sick leave should an employee test positive for the virus.
The good news is that Starbucks baristas already have sick leave. The even better news is that the company is expanding its “catastrophe pay” program to employees affected by COVID-19.
For any employee diagnosed with the virus, Starbucks is offering an additional two weeks of paid leave. The same benefit also applies to employees who have had prolonged contact with someone who has been diagnosed or those at heightened risk of contracting it.
The speedy delivery service currently provides its drivers and delivery people (those infected or exposed to the virus) with financial assistance for up to 14 days. UberEats has also stated that they are exploring compensation options for drivers that have been quarantined or diagnosed with the virus. This could take the form of a fund or even a partnership with other companies.
Restaurants offering forms of free delivery
These companies are giving customers a break when it comes to those delivery fees. Here’s the rundown:
- Chipotle: Free delivery on orders over $10
- KFC: Free delivery through the website, Grubhub, or Seamless
- El Pollo Loco: Free delivery on Grubhub
- Denny’s: Free delivery through the website
- Auntie Anne’s: Free delivery over $15
- Bob Evan’s: Free delivery
- Burger King: Free delivery over $20
- Little Caesars: Free delivery
- Taco Bell: Free delivery on your first delivery order of $12 or more (before tax, tip, and fees) on Grubhub
Why Our Food Delivery Services and Restaurants Remain Essential
The word “essential” is being thrown around a lot lately.
Whether it’s to discuss workers that keep our economy running or businesses that literally sustain lives, those companies and people that prepare and deliver our food are crucial.
During these difficult days, per the good advice from Mrs. Rogers, it’s important to keep an eye out for the helpers among them and to support them with our dollars.
An Overabundance of Fast Food: Food Swamps Are the New Food Deserts
Sponsored by Malone University Online
A homemade salad isn’t a realistic option when you have to walk more than a mile to buy ingredients. For millions of people living in low-income communities, it’s more likely they’ll just order a fast-food burger. They live in areas known as “food swamps,” and it’s a growing threat to health throughout the United States.
Compared with the better-known “food desert” phenomenon of areas lacking fresh, healthy options, food swamps are places where unhealthy foods are more accessible than anything else. Unhealthy options outnumber healthy alternatives by as much as four to one in these areas, according to a report in the Boston Globe.
Together, the problems that both food swamps and food deserts create require creativity to overcome, and social workers and nonprofit agencies across the nation are focused on untangling these issues.
A Closer Look at Food Swamps
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stipulates that food deserts are areas with poverty levels of at least 20% where a minimum of either 500 people or 33% of the population lives over a mile from the nearest supermarket.
While food swamps can occasionally overlap with food deserts, they are usually separate. Food swamps, according to the USDA’s definition, are communities where fast food and junk food are overwhelmingly more available than healthy alternatives. This is most frequently caused by chain restaurants and corner stores that stock unhealthy, processed foods.
The spread of food swamps in recent decades has been staggering. A national study by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found that 60% of the calories Americans buy are from highly processed foods. An article in The Guardian reported that, in many places, drug stores are selling more food than grocery stores are, and that food is typically pre-packaged and lacks nutrients.
To understand the power of food swamps, it’s necessary to study the daily meal choices made by their residents. In 2011, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a 15-year study showing that the presence of supermarkets doesn’t make residents more likely to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. This was especially true for men, who tended to choose quick, processed meals.
The reasons for these unhealthy choices were varied; advertising, cultural norms, and affordability were all factors. While the study focused on food deserts, the findings underscore the concerns with food swamps. There may be healthier options, but most would choose unhealthy options when the unhealthy options are more plentiful.
Food swamps are even more of a problem in neighborhoods where there is greater socio-economic disparity. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health said that “low-income and racial-ethnic minorities are more likely . . . to live near unhealthy food retailers, which has been associated with poor diet.” Those retailers often pack the shelves with processed snack foods, and the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy found that the amount of shelf space stores reserve for snack foods is associated with higher BMI scores in the neighborhoods those stores serve.
In the larger picture of food swamps and deserts, food swamps have been found to be more directly connected with obesity and other health concerns than food deserts, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Poor food choices impact more than just the waist line, though. Heavily processed foods rich in fats and sugars can lead to chronic inflammation and unbalanced gut microbiome, which early research has indicated may have a negative impact on brain chemistry. This negative impact can result in mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and an inability to regulate mood.
Moreover, poor diets can result in other health concerns, such as diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. Heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes-related problems cost patients millions in medical bills every year. For residents in low-income communities, this perpetuates the cycle of poverty through increased debt and financial stress.
Policies Designed to End Food Swamps
The complex problem of food swamps isn’t easy to solve, but groups have been implementing different initiatives. Often, collaboration among public, private, and nonprofit agencies has been necessary to effect this much-needed change. For example, a group called Healthy Retail SF has partnered with 1,150 mom and pop stores in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District to add more healthy and affordable food options to its food swamp.
In Baltimore, new programs have moved farmers’ markets to the city center. These programs have also implemented new measures that allow food vouchers to be used at these markets to encourage the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income seniors.
Meanwhile, The Food Trust has been working in a food swamp in Philadelphia to provide education in schools and communities about cooking healthy meals. They’re also advocating for initiatives that let SNAP recipients get more for their money when they make healthier food purchases.
In the food swamps of Washington, D.C., a group called D.C. Central Kitchen is stocking shelves of corner stores with fresh-cut fruit and ready-made meals with healthier ingredients. Another collective, called D.C. Urban Gardeners Network, has been making a push for more agricultural gardens throughout the city.
Food swamps are a pervasive and complicated issue in neighborhoods throughout the United States, and social workers are continuing to study their causes and explore new remedies. If you’re interested in helping resolve food swamps, food deserts, and more consider earning an online bachelor of social work from Malone University Online. Our program provides field instruction, giving you the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience. Working alongside our exceptional faculty, you’ll gain the mentorship and guidance you need from seasoned professionals with years of real-world experience.
8 Common Food Myths Debunked
There are hundreds of common myths and misconceptions about food which may influence your diet choices. However, some foods commonly believed to be unhealthy are actually just fine and some popular “healthy” foods are actually harmful. Here are eight common food myths debunked:
1. Low-fat Foods are Always Healthier.
Some types of fat are unhealthy, but others are an important part of a healthy diet. When foods are made low fat, the fat content is usually replaced with sugar or sodium to improve the taste. This definitely does not make it healthier, but many people associate fat with weight gain and heart attacks. Therefore, they choose “low-fat” foods even though the foods have an unhealthy amount of sugar or sodium.
2. You Need to Eat Dairy for Healthy Bones.
People tend to confuse dairy with calcium, so it’s a common myth you need dairy for strong bones. It’s true that dairy has lots of calcium, but plenty of other foods do as well. You can eat greens, broccoli, oranges, beans, and nuts to get enough calcium to keep your bones healthy.
3. Eggs Raise Your Cholesterol Levels.
Your cholesterol levels are mostly influenced by saturated and trans fats, and eggs contain very little of both. Eggs contain lots of important nutrients, so cutting them out of your diet to lower your cholesterol levels can actually be harmful. It won’t affect your cholesterol and it will prevent you from getting all the health benefits eggs have.
4. All Food Additives are Bad for You.
Some people believe all food additives are made of harmful, toxic chemicals. While some aren’t very healthy, most are completely fine. The panic over food additives mostly stems from a lack of understanding. For example, many people believe the additive carrageenan is toxic because it’s been proven to cause inflammation in lab animals. However, studies show human bodies don’t absorb or metabolize it, so it flows through the body without causing any harm.
5. Restricting Salt Prevents Heart Attacks.
Lowering your salt intake can reduce your blood pressure, but there’s no scientific evidence supporting the idea that restricting salt reduces your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If your doctor tells you to cut back on salt, you should listen. However, it’s a myth everyone needs to lower their salt intake to be safe and healthy.
6. High Fructose Corn Syrup is Worse than Sugar.
Many foods are labeled “No HFCS” as if this makes them healthier and many people buy these items because they’re so afraid of high fructose corn syrup. It actually is very similar to sucrose, or table sugar, in many ways. The composition of high fructose corn syrup is almost identical to that of table sugar and both have the same number of calories. They both have similar effects on insulin and glucose levels. Neither are particularly healthy, but one isn’t worse than the other.
7. All Organic Food is Healthy.
Organic food is free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other additives found in most non-organic foods. Choosing organic produce can reduce your chemical exposure, but junk food labeled “organic” is still junk food. You can buy organic chips, cookies, or crackers, but they’ll still have as much sugar and empty calories as their non-organic counterparts.
8. Coffee Makes You Dehydrated.
Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it does dehydrate you. However, coffee has a very mild dehydrating effect and all of the water it contains will make up for any fluid you lose. Coffee also contains lots of antioxidants, so you don’t have to worry about drinking a cup or two every morning.
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