What barriers do SNAP recipients face in achieving a healthy diet?

Understanding the struggles of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in achieving a healthy diet


Although millions in the U.S. receive food assistance, many still struggle to access and achieve a healthy diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides cash assistance to buy food to 40 million+ people in the U.S. Prior research has found, however, that many who receive SNAP still face food insecurity, defined as not having enough to eat or not being able to get healthy foods. What are the barriers that people receiving food assistance face, and how can we overcome them?


Using a nationally representative survey of 4,500+ SNAP recipients, combined with in-person interviews with 120 SNAP recipients, Westat investigated:

  • What SNAP recipients perceive as their greatest barriers to achieving a healthy diet
  • How they work to overcome these barriers
  • What changes they think could help them feed themselves and their families better

We asked about common barriers reported in past studies, including the cost of healthy foods, lack of access to grocery stores, and lack of information about a healthy diet, among others.

We tied these questions to information about SNAP participants and their environments, including their education, where they live (urban vs. rural), and their income.


We found that 88% of SNAP participants reported facing at least 1 barrier to a healthy diet.

The most common barrier was the cost of healthy foods: 61% of respondents said that the cost of healthy foods made it difficult for them to have a healthy diet. While participants used many strategies to try to overcome an affordability barrier, including using food pantries and other charitable assistance, shopping at the cheapest stores, and relying on friends and family, most still felt it was difficult to afford healthy foods.

These findings helped USDA decide to change how SNAP benefits are determined for the first time since the formula was introduced in 1975, raising benefits for participants nationwide.


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