A diet of cola, ice cream and cookies may sound like a fast track to obesity and diabetes, but under current laws, food stamps will pay for exactly that meal plan. Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) is proposing a bill to change this, so that the government only pays for healthy, nourishing food.
This sudden interest in public health is curious given Roe’s previous resistance to Michelle Obama’s efforts to fight childhood obesity with the “Let’s Move!” program. However, his proposal mirrors similar efforts in states like Wisconsin and South Carolina.
Roe explains, “As a physician, I realize the importance of healthy eating, and as an obstetrician, I’ve seen how the WIC program helps empower families receiving assistance to use taxpayer dollars to purchase healthy, wholesome foods. By giving SNAP recipients more nutritious choices, we can take a meaningful step towards ending hunger in America.”
Under Roe’s proposal, people receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, would need to follow the same nutritional guidelines as those receiving benefits from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. This means choosing whole-wheat bread over white, buying breakfast cereals with whole grains and limited sugar, and avoiding certain processed foods.
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Opponents of the bill claim that junk food is cheaper, and that recipients may be forced to eat less if they must spend their limited funds on fresh, healthy foods.
However, obesity and poverty have long been related, at least partially because of the low cost of unhealthy foods. One-third of the total population of the United States is currently obese, and the Food Research and Research Center has reported a greater risk for low-income people.
Some also argue that many poor communities lack access to healthy foods, and that SNAP recipients may have limited options. While accessibility is surely an issue that needs to be addressed, it remains unclear if anyone will go hungry if not subsidized for soft drink and junk-food purchases.