People on food stamps often lack education on healthy eating, said Jill Brown, director of nutrition education at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, a Triangle-area advocacy group that promotes healthy eating on a low budget.
“People want to know how to shop on a budget,” Brown said. “They don’t know how to shop on a budget for the recipes they want to use.”
The Duke-UNC center will show people on SNAP what foods to buy and how to make eating healthily a fun activity, said Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
“(The center) promotes healthier eating and a healthier lifestyle by giving people the flexibility to make healthier choices,” Ammerman said.
The center will function as a collaborative effort between the two universities. Ammerman said each school offers different methods of tackling the disconnect between low-income families and healthy eating.
“There are strengths that can be seen from both universities,” she said. “Duke handles the larger data, and UNC does a lot more of the groundwork. We work a lot with people on the SNAP program to understand what drives their behavior.”
SNAP is different from another federal food stamp program called Women, Infants and Children, which gives stamps for a certain number of select foods.
“The problem is that with WIC, there is more of an incentive for the stores to charge more instead of focusing on nutrition,” Ammerman said. “SNAP has been an improvement because it is based more on income, whereas WIC is very prescribed.”
SNAP has lifted 4.9 million people above the poverty line with its benefits, and the program has stimulated the economy by $1.79 for every federal dollar allocated to it.
Though SNAP offers more flexibility to people on food stamps, there are still issues that Duke and UNC are addressing. The universities are looking at the behavioral economics of food stamps.
“(It’s) the notion of nudging people in the direction that you want them to go,” Ammerman said. “It is being used for people to adopt healthier behaviors because it is more convenient or more fun.”