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The power of choice helps low-income Alabamans live healthier

Let’s face it: It can be tough to eat right.

My wife and I do our best to ensure we eat a balanced, nutritious diet full of leafy greens, fish and lean proteins—but I’ll be the first to admit we’re not perfect.

The truth is, most Americans aren’t perfect when it comes to their diets. National surveys consistently indicate a vast number of us aren’t getting all the nutrients we need from food alone—and that’s a problem.

For some of us, busy schedules and the attraction of quick, easy food on the go makes it difficult to eat three balanced meals a day—but we can always work toward making healthier choices. However, for 45 million Americans—those living in poverty—the option of eating healthier isn’t always available.

Alabama has the sixth highest poverty rate in the United States, with 18.5 percent of its citizens living below the federal poverty line. This means many families in our state are faced with the difficult decision of purchasing food based on price rather than nutritional value. Lower-priced foods can be high in calories, but may lack nutritional value, and many Alabamians must place a priority on getting the most food for the least amount of money. As a result, government data shows 40 percent of Americans in the lowest income bracket are deficient in one or more essential nutrients.
These families are made up of our friends and relatives, our coworkers and neighbors and they deserve every opportunity to be healthy. That is why I introduced HR 3841, the SNAP Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act, a bill that would allow low-income Americans to purchase a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement with their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This bill would add choices to SNAP while keeping the program’s cost the exact same.

Multivitamins are not a replacement for a healthy diet, but these supplements can help fill nutrient gaps by providing shortfall nutrients folks aren’t getting from their daily intake of food. Safe, convenient and scientifically-supported, multivitamins represent a cost-effective, immediate solution for SNAP recipients looking to improve their nutrition status and ensure their families receive adequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals.

Making good choices about nutrition and lifestyle can help prevent chronic diseases and improve health. When we’re healthy, we miss fewer work days, we have more energy and we’re able to make better choices for ourselves and our families. These choices pave the road for success, and the choice to start the day with a multivitamin is the first brick folks can lay to ensure the path to good nutrition stays clear.

My goal as a legislator is to help people reach a point where they no longer need their SNAP benefits, and HR 3841 brings us one step closer to achieving that goal. It is my hope that by empowering low-income Americans to achieve optimal nutrition, SNAP recipients will develop lifelong habits that will eventually break the cycle of poverty and allow them to reach their full potential.

Being healthy requires effort, but should not be an option limited to the financially well-off. Access to a multivitamin supplement is an obvious first step in helping low-income Alabamans lead healthier, more productive lives.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers is a Republican from Saks