Leung was the lead researcher on a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which analyzed the diets of low-income adults. Those receiving food stamps through SNAP — the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — had significantly less healthy diets, consuming 39 percent fewer whole grains, 46 percent more red meat and more processed meats than those with similar incomes who were not in the program.
While many factors shape food purchases, tight budgets and “food deserts” — neighborhoods with few outlets selling fresh produce — appear to play a much bigger role in the decisions of low-income households. This finding has led lawmakers to enhance access to fruits and vegetables by, among other things, pushing for healthier choices for meals at public schools.
Joel Berg, spokesman for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an advocacy organization, said the 2010 federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was renewed last month, has decreased public schools' reliance on processed meats and salty foods. The law set guidelines for school lunches and has prompted many schools to add vegetarian options and healthy snacks to meal choices.
"There is more focus on fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains," he said.