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20 April 2014

Food stamps should limit unhealthy food

One in seven Americans receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or the food stamp program. Food stamps may be a noble idea, but studies have shown that their recipients have a higher incidence of obesity and diabetes than others of the same socioeconomic status.

SNAP is a form of government aid designed to establish food security in low to no-income households. It also costs taxpayers close to $80 billion dollars annually, making it the most expensive subsidy in the Farm Bill, which regulates farm production and prices. SNAP is a vast and costly program with unhealthy side effects.

Food stamps provide a means to obtain more calorie-dense (but nutrient-depleted) foods per dollar spent. It makes sense when shopping on a budget. Mathematically speaking, it seems more intelligent for families to go for the 450 calorie Lunchable, which costs on average $4 (and this price is lessened by the food stamp) instead of the 70 calorie apple that costs $1.35 per pound (this gets them only about 3 apples per pound).

But this mentality creates a dismal future for children in these households, predisposing them to metabolic disabilities for which they will inevitably need medical care. In the end, this major government investment has failed to reach its goal of eliminating poverty, instead deepening the hole with more generations of obese and dependent individuals.

The USDA already has restrictions on what can and cannot be purchased through food stamps (for example, alcohol and tobacco). So, to include more restrictions geared toward promoting nourishment should not be a difficult task. However, the effort made to reverse the downward spiral of food stamp recipients has been met with much opposition.

When former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the use of food stamps for purchasing fructose-infused soft drinks, companies like Coca-Cola lobbied aggressively against the proposal. They pushed the USDA to veto Bloomberg’s well-founded gesture, saying it was an impossible feat.

Beyond the corporate lobbying, even antipoverty organizations were against the idea, arguing that if the government were to intervene in the diets of the lower class, there is no telling where that jurisdiction might end. While this is a logical concern, the problem of rising obesity in the benefit-receiving lower class still looms over the taxpayer as a faulty system.

But a silver lining exists. Programs geared toward educating and creating a more informed lower classes have sprouted up in local communities. These programs generate a sense of empowerment within the people, giving them the tools to make healthier decisions when buying economically, instead of having an authority mandate their daily lives.

Once the seed is planted in their minds that the freedom to live longer, healthier lives is theirs, their power grows. With this approach that propels self-awareness as opposed to external constraint, the goal of SNAP transforms into a more tangible horizon. Food stamp recipients must develop a grasp on the interconnectedness of their present decisions on future outcomes.

 

Faizah Shareef is a freshman majoring in biochemistry and nutrition.