I actually meant to address this subject a couple of months ago, when I read this op-ed by Louis Yuhasz, the founder of an anti-obesity nonprofit in Charleston:
Our foundation works with a 17-year-old girl who weighs 495 pounds. At home she’s fed a diet of convenience store food, bought at convenience store prices, largely at taxpayer expense. Rare is a salad or lean meat. Processed, packaged food is all she knows. And it’s slowly killing her.
But she won’t leave this earth without costing us all a small fortune. She’ll need knee replacement surgery before she leaves her 20s, and in her 30s her hips will fail her too. Taxpayers can probably expect to pay for a long stay in a nursing home for her, because of the toll diabetes will take on her vision and limbs.
If ever there was an example of solving one problem while creating another, it’s the food stamp program in America. Through it, as one critic recently suggested, our government is “subsidizing the obesity epidemic.”…
Don’t get him wrong, he explained. The food stamp program has done a lot of good, and saved lives. But it needs to be changed:
So here’s something Washington should think very seriously about: strictly limiting what foods can be purchased with the money we provide SNAP recipients. We already impose limitations: Beneficiaries can’t use their payments to buy alcohol or cigarettes. Why not take it one step further and bar the purchase of foods that are making us fat and sick, at least with the money coming out of taxpayers’ pockets?
Where would we draw the line? If it comes from the meat, seafood, produce or dairy sections, it’s probably good to go. Or maybe we could use an even more general standard: If my 100-year-old grandmother would recognize it as food, it is.
On the other hand, if the ingredient list includes added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, synthetic trans-fats, industrial seed oils, any ingredient name longer than four syllables, or if it would survive a nuclear holocaust, then put it back on the shelf, or at least buy it with your own money…
I’ve never gone along with the people who want to ban junk food, the way they’ve done with limiting soda intake in New York. But I have no problem at all with limiting what our tax dollars pay for. Besides, obesity costs us too much. We’re paying for it on the front end and the back end, as Yuhasz noted:
SNAP is expensive at $65 billon, but get a load of what obesity costs us in direct medical costs: $190 billion per year. Almost three quarters of Americans are either overweight or obese. Almost one in five children are clinically obese, and what used to be called adult-onset diabetes is one of the biggest health problems among kids…
So now I see in the paper today:
COLUMBIA, SC — Seeking to slow the childhood obesity epidemic, South Carolina health leaders would like to limit the purchase of sugar-filled drinks with food stamps.
Catherine Templeton, director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and Lillian Koller, director of the Department of Social Services, have exchanged thoughts on the subject. They agree that cutting the intake of sugary drinks could improve the health of the state’s children, but they are struggling with how to use the food stamp program as a tool in that effort, and especially with whether the federal government will allow it.
Several similar efforts, most notably by New York City, have failed to gain approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. The feds told New York in 2011 that they agree with the goal of limiting intake of sugary drinks, but the city’s proposal had operational challenges and impacted too many people. They suggested a test program on a smaller scale…
I’d like to see SC be used as that test case, as Joey Holleman’s story goes on to suggest. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our state to be in the vanguard of improving health for once?
This seems to me like something that left and right ought to be able to get behind. I can imagine arguments against it, but I can’t imagine any good ones.