Roles of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Accompanying Education Programs in the Health and Nutrition of the Food Insecure, a Lecture By Dr. Debra Palmer, Ph.D., March 26, 2014

Dr. Debra M. Palmer, M.Ed., Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Nutritional Sciences Extension Specialist in Community Nutrition Rutgers University

Dr. Debra M. Palmer, M.Ed., Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Nutritional Sciences
Extension Specialist in Community Nutrition
Rutgers University

Dr. Debra M. Palmer’s research in nutrition involves issues regarding household food insecurity; the evaluation of innovative methods of providing nutrition education; and incorporating physical activity education into nutrition education venues.  As a member of the Nutrition Sciences faculty, Dr. Palmer teaches several graduate level courses on community nutrition. Additionally, Dr. Palmer oversees two statewide nutrition education programs targeted toward limited-resource, diverse, urban audiences (NJ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education SNAP-Ed) and the NJ Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Dr. Palmer also is a member of a Multi-State Research Project on the topic of omega-3 consumption, for which she is leading the development and testing of a USDA consumer website on this project.

Dr. Palmer will discuss the roles of the two programs she directs on the nutrition awareness of the urban populations in New Jersey served by the programs. Dr. Palmer assigned two article to be read in preparation for her discussion:

Dinour LM, Bergen D, Yeh MC.
The food insecurity-obesity paradox: a review of the literature and the role food stamps may play.
J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Nov;107(11):1952-61.

Metallinos-Katsaras E, Must A, Gorman K.
A longitudinal study of food insecurity on obesity in preschool children.
J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Dec;112(12):1949-58.

(You will need to obtain the full article through Rutgers Libraries)

Dr. Palmer’s Lecture:

As described in her research interests above, Dr. Palmer is an amazing health professional whose life’s work is to help lower income people have better health through improved nutrition. But even more interesting is Dr. Palmer’s own life story and educational path to become a Professor at Rutgers University.

Dr. Debra Palmer grew up in the inner city of Cincinnati, Ohio. She realized that she needed to go to college in order to break out of the cycle of poverty and, as a single mother, to give her son a better life and insurance (he was asthmatic).  Dr. Palmer went to college for aerospace engineering. During this time she needed food stamps to supplement her and her son’s diets. After obtaining her undergraduate degree, Debra taught physics and chemistry in high school in inner city schools. During this time, Dr. Palmer came to the conclusion that most inner city children had no idea how to successfully navigate modern society and she decided to change her educational goals to specifically help the children of the inner city.

Dr. Palmer obtained 2 Master degrees, one in Education and the other in Nutrition. And later she went on to obtain a Ph.D. degree in Nutrition from Penn State University. During her Ph.D. studies, Dr. Palmer became familiar with government programs that were designed to help prevent hunger in the poor. One of them was Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed, this was the education portion of the program formerly known as the food stamp nutrition education program (FSNE)). The other program was the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). This program was specifically designed to help provide nutrition education to families with children.

After Dr. Palmer graduated with her Ph.D. and moved to New Jersey for a faculty position in Nutrition, she set about using her knowledge to bring SNAP-Ed to New Jersey, and to make these government educations programs efficient and helpful to the populations in New Jersey they were meant to serve. Having grown up in the inner city and having received food stamps while she was in college, Dr. Palmer was aware of the special problems that face poor people in urban areas.

Her strategy included three major operational tracts:
1) She studied the Federal laws so that the State of New Jersey could obtain the maximal amount of funds for nutrition education from the different legislation bills passed by Congress.

2) Dr. Palmer used her knowledge of the difficulties of urban city living to develop effective educational tools and plans. This has even progressed to the the production of educational videos that promote healthy practices, such as exercising at home. See

3) Finally, Dr. Palmer hired and trained an army of people from the different communities all over the state (people with high school diplomas (but not bachelor degrees)) and trained them to teach in the community, and along the way, to become successful Rutgers University employees, who were eligible to take college classes in order to work toward college degrees. Over the last 10 years she estimates she has obtained a 66% success rate in hiring competent and loyal community workers for her programs.

Dr. Palmer further discussed her unique insights into how these federal programs help as many people as possible attain proper nutrition.

Please visit these websites for more on Dr. Palmer’s programs:


  1. sunny brower

    Over the years the rates of food insecurity and obesity have risen, and an association has been linked between the two states, especially among women who have participated in the food stamp program. Along with the prevalence of obesity doubling within the past 30 years, there has also been a significant increase in the number of food-insecure Americans. To help battle the food insecurity issue, the government federally funds an entitlement program for low-income individuals formally known as the Food Stamp Program, and now currently the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). After Dietz proposed a relationship between hunger and obesity in 1995, research has explored this topic. The findings show a significant relationship between food insufficient people and overweight status. This relationship holds up even after adjusting for socioeconomic, demographic, government assistance, environment and lifestyle variables. Data showed the prevalence of an overweight condition increased in women as the severity of food insecurity increased, from food secure to mild insecurity. Women from food insecure groups were found to be an average of two BMI units heavier than those who were food secure. This association between obesity and food insecurity was not observed in men or children. The results of the studies reviewed showed inconsistent results between obesity and food insecurity in children and adolescents, suggesting that the findings depend upon age, race, ethnicity, household income, sex and etc. The paper suggests that women fall victim and begin to become obese due to a mechanism related to maternal deprivation. Some reasons for the food insecurity-obesity paradox are that children who are raised in poverty are more likely to become obese adults, the low cost of energy dense foods that tend to be over consumed on a restricted budget like the Food Stamp program, and food insecurity may be linked to psychological and behavioral links to food leading to obesity. Since resources are provided only once per month, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program creates a vicious cycle for its users, leading them to binge eat for 3 weeks, and then go through 1 week of involuntary food restriction, leading to a quicker weight gain when food becomes available again.

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is an essential program for providing nutrition to the food insecure, and it should be fully funded by the Federal government. But, several changes should be made in the program to improve it and make it more functional.

    The program, as now designed, not only leads to poor eating habits, but it does not ensure consumption of nutritionally adequate diets. I believe the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a definite player in the rising obesity level. The way the program is designed causes its users to binge on the food that they purchase in a short period of time because they have not eaten adequately in the preceding week or so, and/or the clients develop a desperate mindset when they do not know when their next meal will be. Another problem with the current program is that it does not enforce which foods can be purchased. Therefore, the funds are often used to purchase energy dense foods. To make this program work better, policy makers need to make four changes. First, spread out the amount of money allocated each month to the beginning and middle of the month, allowing households to budget more easily. Second, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutrient dense foods need to be promoted through subsides or other discounts at the store. Third, nutrition classes need to be offered to help participants learn healthy eating habits and how to purchase the most nutritious foods for the money. Lastly, participants who have lower BMIs, or show weight loss, should be offered more incentives. Those who attend a certain number of nutrition classes and show a certain level of knowledge should receive more money per month. To prevent obesity, significant improvements in food security need to be made. Improving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will go along way to improving food insecurity in the US.

  2. Jenna Deinzer

    I believe the article, “ A Longitudinal Study of Food Insecurity on Obesity in Preschool Children” depicts the food insecurity issues occurring today as Dr. Debra Palmer explained in her lecture. The increase in number of adults who are either overweight or obese in the United States has been increasing and therefore this is a concern that affects the health profile of our country. This issue is especially alarming when these statistics are beginning to include children. There are many factors that work to produce these results, one being food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food for an active healthy life that results from limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. The purpose of the study conducted by Metallinos-Katsaras, Must and Gorman looks at the relationship of household food insecurity with and without hunger in infants as well as childhood and compares that to weight status and risk of obesity. The specific population chosen for this study was a diverse group of 2-5 year olds from low-income families participating in the Massachusetts WIC program during a 5-year period of time. To measure which participants coming to WIC were food insecure, a questionnaire was administered. WIC requires participants to come back at scheduled times for check in appointments. For the children in this study, during the visit as an infant, about ¼ of infants lived in households with some type of food insecurity and 5.7% lived in households with food insecurity with hunger. As the children got older, at the visit when they were a child, the number increased to 23% of children were experiencing some type of food insecurity and 4.6% reporting food insecurity with hunger. About 17% of all the children were obese. Overall, they found that persistent household food insecurity without hunger is related to a 22% increase in children becoming obese. They also found that maternal prepregnancy weight, being obese or overweight, was associated with an increase in risk for obesity for the child.
    Overall, this article brings up a good point, highlighting that factors and behaviors from a baby’s early years of life may prove to be crucial in determining their weight status when they get older (i.e., measured at infancy and then childhood). Also, it was interesting to see the connection to a mother’s weight and how that affects the likelihood of her child becoming obese. This shows that the eating environment created for a child is very important. For example, some children who are growing up in food insecure households are only being exposed to calorie dense, high fat, high sugar, processed foods because the sad reality is that they are most of the time the cheapest foods. Other studies have shown the link between increased consumption of these types of foods and obesity. Programs like WIC and SNAP try to assist food insecure families and prevent issues like this from occurring. Both of these programs give checks/vouchers to qualified low-income, food insecure families to assist in buying food. The WIC program is great because they provide limits on how families can use that money. The SNAP program just gives participants money to spend on buying food and they can choose to spend that how they please. I think certain restrictions like this can definitely account for changes in results comparing food insecurity and child weight status and risk for obesity. There are so many factors that can contribute to a child’s risk for obesity besides only food insecurity and therefore, more studies need to be conducted.

  3. Holly Murray

    I really enjoyed Dr. Palmer’s lecture, the topics on food insecurity and obesity have been on my heart lately. Recently I read the article, “The Food Insecurity–Obesity Paradox”. In this article the authors discuss the paradox of the increase of food insecurity and obesity in the population. Food insecurity is the lack of availability of nutritionally adequate food. This may result in hunger or increased consumption of affordable foods that are low in nutritional value.
    Many researchers have found that receiving food stamps does not ensure that the recipients are eating nutritionally adequate diets. From what I have learned in other classes this is a major concern for community nutritionists. There are many strategies being put in place to help alleviate this problem. I think WIC provides a good example of how to address the food insecurity–obesity paradox, it provides nutritional education along with the resources to obtain healthy food. This article provides some insight about the factors that contribute to obesity among food stamp recipients and a few ways to address these factors. However, there are definitely some holes in the system that contributes to this paradox. Even the article says further research needs to be done and policies in the food stamp program need to be changed.
    Dr. Palmer explained the how difficult it is for programs like SNAP to run effectively and provide enough education to recipients when budget cuts are a regular occurrence. Until SNAP and SNAP-ed can be provided regular funding none of the problems can be addressed.

    • Luisa Martinez

      I have to agree with you Holly, there are several holes in the system. I particularly agree with what you said about the way the WIC program is implemented. Participants still get the assistance they need as well as the education along with it; but most importantly the program pushes them to get the more healthy alternatives by limiting the kinds of food that they can get with the vouchers. I truly believe the same ought to be done with the SNAP program, I think that is a good way to address the food insecurity-obese paradox; at least for those involved in the program.

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