As obesity soars and enrollment in the governmental Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has skyrocketed to I in 7 Americans, one must ask: are they connected?
Today Columbia University awarded a Pulitzer Prize to The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow for his explanatory series on the USDA program formerly known as Food Stamps. In one segment, he follows a young Texan mother and her children as they navigate the pressures and health challenges of extreme poverty. On disability, Blanca Salas who is also diabetic allows Saslow to accompany her to the doctor’s office. Blanca injects insulin for her diabetes and her 13-year old daughter Clarissa is showing signs of pre-diabetes while 9-year-old Antonio shares her cholesterol medication.
Eating habits are unhealthy: Hot Cheetos with cheese and Diet Coke among other junky snacks and fast food. Exercise is non-existent: it’s too dangerous to go outside after a certain hour.
Read the story “Too much of too little” here. It strikes at the heart of a disturbing paradox: obesity in the hungry in America.
Food stamps or the SNAP program are the subject at many dinner tables these days in America and not just the 47 million receiving them.
Seems there are many stories to tell: a person whipping out a SNAP debit card to pay for pint-size cartons of Haagen Dazs ice cream—at $4 a pop–at the supermarket checkout; the family buying a pile of shrink-wrapped steaks; the carts filled with soda, potato chips and the litany of junk foods–all paid for by taxpayers.
The questions I hear break along two lines:
- Why is the government paying for premium ice cream and expensive steaks when those just above the cutoff must settle for budget options?
- And why are we allowing sugary, fatty foods when obesity is epidemic, especially among SNAP recipients?
Limiting choice is too difficult –does a soda have more sugar than a sports drink?—as well as insulting, say defenders. The holes in this argument are clear: another federal program called Women, Infants and Children (WIC) tells recipients their grains must be whole and milk must be reduced-fat as well as allowing only a defined list of foods deemed nutritious. This solution would show immediate improvement in SNAP purchases. But powerful food lobbies fight this plan and so far are winning.
Tina Rosenberg wrote an excellent analysis of this issue in The New York Times recently: “To Fight Obesity, a Carrot, and a Stick” is a conversation starter for all involved in public health and obesity issues.