Thursday, June 20, 2013

How Cutting Food Stamps Will Cost All Americans

From The Atlantic two weeks the full House floor is slated to vote on the GOP-controlled Agriculture Committee's omnibus farm bill, which includes unprecedented cuts to the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Agriculture Committee's reductions to SNAP would total $20.5 billion over 10 years and is even more austere than last year's stalled House farm bill, which sought a $16 billion reduction to SNAP. Such draconian cuts to SNAP may exacerbate the obesity epidemic and ultimately raise health care costs associated with treating obesity and related conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, particularly among low-income Americans. 
According to the CDC, nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children are obese. High as these rates are, the proportion of obese Americans has finally plateaued in the last few years after having escalated since 1980. But obesity rates may climb again if the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill passes and results in benefit reductions for the 47.8 million Americans currently on SNAP. (An estimated 2 million households will lose their SNAP benefits altogether.)
Households affected by these SNAP cuts will have to contend with desperately tight grocery budgets that will constrain their ability to buy healthy food, making it easier for them to become obese. Having less money to spend on food could prompt SNAP recipients to buy more calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods that contribute to both weight gain and malnourishment. With the exception of a few items like beans and potatoes, many of the cheapest grocery offerings are highly processed foods packed with health advocates' maligned trinity of salt, sugar and fat. 
Calorie for calorie, unhealthy processed foods and sodas are also often significantly more economical than healthier alternatives. In their widely cited survey of supermarket prices in Seattle, University of Washington epidemiologist Adam Drewnowski and his colleague S.E. Specter at UCLA found that one dollar bought 1200 calories worth of cookies or potato chips, but only 250 calories of carrots. For cash-strapped, hungry Americans, the choice seems obvious. And indeed, Drewnowski and Specter's research suggests that consumers on tight budgets decide what foods to buy based not on nutritional considerations, but on the cost and palatability of foods.

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