Go into our local Old Town Key West CVS, which most likely is not an anomaly, and you’ll be greeted by a bank of refrigeration units that hold an immense array of “food” stuffs, all loaded with omega-6s and high-fructose corn syrup. On every other door a sticker announces that these items–sweetened beverages, prepared desserts, salty snacks, etc.–are eligible for SNAP (food stamp) holders.
SNAP–the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–aim was intended to “permit low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet.”
How’s that working? Well, “the lofty goals of federal programs often differ from the actual results. It turns out that about $15 billion of SNAP benefits are for junk food. Apparently, recipients are not making the nutritious and healthy choices that the government promised,” writes Chris Edwards, director of tax policy issues at the Cato Institute.
Food stamps can be used to buy just about any edible item in grocery stores other than alcohol, vitamins, and hot food. But exactly what is being purchased by the program’s 44 million recipients has been mainly shrouded in secrecy—until now.
A November study [read it below] by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally shed light on food stamp purchases. The study examined detailed data for SNAP and non-SNAP shoppers for one large food retailer over a one-year period.
The study found that SNAP shoppers bought slightly more junk food than non-SNAP shoppers. … At the same time, SNAP shoppers spent relatively less on nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Not surprising to anyone paying even a modicum of attention, hunger is not the #1 health-care related food problem in the U.S. That bloated award goes to obesity as the biggest health risk, especially among people with low incomes. “In general, low-income Americans are suffering not from too little food, but from too much of the wrong kinds of food,” writes Mr. Edwards.
It is doubtful policymakers would ever mandate that food stamps be used only for fruits and veggies, but reform can happen. End federal involvement in food stamps, as Chris suggests, and allow states to decide whether taxpayers should subsidize cola, candy, crackers, and cookies.