Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Angered by the federal government’s denial of his request to bar residents from buying candy or sugar-sweetened beverages with SNAP benefits, Maine Governor Paul LePage has threatened to end the state’s administration of the program. Is there any truth to his claim that SNAP recipients spend most of their benefits on junk food?  

  • Poor diet quality is a systemic issue and is not specific to SNAP recipients. Research shows that the diets the diets of SNAP participants are only slightly less healthy than other Americans. According to one study, SNAP participants consume more sugary drinks than higher-income people but the same amount as other low-income people who do not receive SNAP. And compared with higher-income people, SNAP recipients are less likely to consume sweets and desserts, salty snacks, and added fats and oils.
  • Comprehensive information about how SNAP participants spend their benefits is lacking, but information from Walmart, which redeems a significant portion of SNAP dollars, gives us an important clue. The top items SNAP households buy in Walmart stores are not soda and candy, but basic inexpensive foods, such as bananas, whole milk, Ramen noodles, and hot dogs. These are perhaps not the most nutritious options, but they indicate that families are frequently searching for inexpensive meals, not desserts and drinks.

Source: Urban Institute, 6/27/16, SNAP Realities