Studies have shown that food stamps, despite the predominance of media reports portraying recipients as lazy freeloaders, are a highly beneficial program — not only for the people who need and receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but for the country as a whole.
Especially in a recession, the economy needs people to spend money, not save it. Because people need to eat, SNAP benefits are spent and spent quickly, pumping needed cash back into the economy.
But are food stamps good for the waistlines of people who need them? A Washington Post story published over the weekend says no — or tries to. The story zeroes in one Texas county in which 40 percent of residents require food assistance.
Food stamps translate into cheap food, and cheap food can easily mean fatty, sugary, high-calorie food. The county has twice the national average rate of obesity and diabetes, the Post says.
"Has the massive growth of a government feeding program solved a problem, or created one?" the story asks.
SNAP benefits were cut nationwide on November 1 of this year, and the Republican-led House of Representatives wants to keep cutting, hoping to kick 3.8 million people off the program. But one advocacy group, the Food Research and Action Center, says that the answer as far as regulating obesity is concerned, is not fewer people on food stamps, but more.
FRAC listed it main recommendations in a recent report. They include, “increasing participation in SNAP; improving SNAP benefit levels so people can afford adequate diets, including healthier foods; promoting fruit and vegetable purchases with SNAP benefits; supporting SNAP use at farmers’ markets and other venues; enhancing SNAP Nutrition Education; and increasing access to healthy, affordable foods in underserved communities.”
In other words, give people more resources to buy better food. And steer them toward healthy foods, because much cheap food is of poor, or even negative nutritional value.
While some studies, such as a 2008 survey by The U.S. Department of Agriculture, have found some correlation between food stamp use and obesity, that correlation is confined to adult women only. Men and children show no increased obesity levels if they receive SNAP benefits.
But FRAC questions even the data pertaining to women. Obesity rates correspond to income and education level, whether food stamps are part of the picture or not. Low-income women tend to have higher rates of obesity, regardless of whether they use SNAP benefits.
Obesity rates are lower among both men and women with college degrees than those who did not go to college.