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[imgcontainer right][img:Figure03.jpg][source]National Agricultural and Rural Development Center[/source]Researchers tracked the counties with the highest rates of diabetes in the nation (top map) and the highest per-capita expenditures on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (middle map). The bottom map shows the overlap between the highest incidence of diabetes and the highest per-capita rate of SNAP payments. (Click the maps to enlarge them.)[/imgcontainer]

The government’s centerpiece nutrition program could be part of an effort to reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes in the United States, two researchers say. And rural counties might be the best place to start such a program.

Scott Loveridge (Michigan State University) and Adam Reimer (National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center) tracked down the counties that have high rates of diabetes and high per-capita expenditures on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what we used to call food stamps). (The researchers’ full report is available here.)

The map at the top shows the U.S. counties with the best and worst rates of diabetes (worst are in red, best are in green). The second map shows the counties with the highest and lowest per capita rates of SNAP disbursements (highest, red; lowest, green). And the bottom map shows where the highest diabetes rates and highest per capita SNAP payments overlap. (Click the maps to enlarge them.)

The researchers point out that this geographic relationship between SNAP and diabetes doesn’t mean the nutrition program is responsible for diabetes, or even that SNAP recipients have diabetes. They just note that the juxtaposition of diabetes and SNAP might create an opportunity for a new way of handling a public health problem.

Namely, these counties would be ideal locations to test whether giving SNAP vendors incentives to sell healthy food might improve the diabetes rate in the long run. 

The rural nature of these counties is  an advantage for launching a pilot program, Loveridge and Reimer say, because it would be less expensive to administer, smaller and easier to measure.

Rather than placing restrictions on SNAP purchases that require customers to buy healthy foods, Loveridge and Reimer suggest a SNAP incentive program. Such a program could provide a little extra profit margin to grocers for healthy foods. That, in turn, might lead vendors to change store layouts, train staff differently and even “upsell” healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

Loveridge and Reimer note that fast-food restaurants make sure customers have plenty of opportunities to purchase high-margin foods like french fries. That’s why we always hear the same phrases from the clerk when we place a fast-food order.

If Loveridge and Reimer’s idea takes off, we might hear something different at the grocery store.

Would you like any fresh tomatoes with that?

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