A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) details barriers to eating healthy that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants face. According to the report, the most commonly noted barrier (61 percent) is the high cost of healthy foods.

The findings are not shocking to anti-hunger advocates and echo many of the concerns already voiced by those with lived experience with hunger. Aside from the price of food, other barriers include

  • the time it takes to prepare meals from scratch (30 percent);
  • transportation to the grocery store (19 percent);
  • distance to the grocery store (18 percent);
  • knowledge about health foods (16 percent);
  • physical disability or limitations (15 percent);
  • storage for fresh or cooked foods (14 percent);
  • a lack of adequate kitchen equipment (11 percent); and
  • limited cooking skills (11 percent).

According to USDA’s findings, the prevalence of most barriers did not vary based on household composition, income, education level, urban versus rural location, or region. The most common strategies for coping with insufficient funds for food included spending money on groceries that had been set aside for another purpose (18 percent), delaying payment of bills (11 percent), and skipping medical care or prescription costs (8 percent).

Maintaining a healthy diet while receiving SNAP benefits is challenging due to the cost of healthy foods and the insufficiency of SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits amounts are tied to the Thrifty Food Plan, though this food plan is currently insufficient because it fails to provide enough money to afford a meal in 99 percent of U.S. counties and Washington, D.C. The average low-income cost of a meal across the U.S. is $2.36, yet the average maximum SNAP benefit is only around $1.86 per person per meal. The Thrifty Food Plan is currently being examined by USDA, and its reevaluation will “help ensure the TFP affords families a realistic, healthy diet on a budget.”

FRAC urges policymakers to help millions of families put food on the table with key investments in our federal nutrition programs. For more information about the reevaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan and FRAC’s recommendations, see Thrifty Food Plan 101 part 1 and part 2.