Fighting Obesity with Food Stamps
The United States’s obesity epidemic was born and bred in a heaping portion of irony. Conventional thinking would hold that the less you earn, the thinner you would be— there’s only so much fooad you can buy in a limited income. You could also assume that someone on the heavier side might be making in a lot more money, and could afford larger portions and what we’d consider “treats” in general.
That was a truth throughout much of human history, but America has proved to be an exception. In this day and age, calorie dense food is the cheap option, whereas healthier, nutrient-rich foods cost more. A simple cheeseburger from your favorite fast-food joint can cost a buck, while a whole pineapple will run you $4.
So it’s no surprise that there’s a link between obesity rates and Americans who have to use food stamps. A family of four needs to have a gross monthly income of under $2,628— 130% of the poverty line. In a recent post for the Upshot, Aaron E. Carroll shares his opinion on how to combat obesity amongst the nation’s poorest: impose restrictions on unhealthy food.
This wasn’t an idea that he arrived at in his sleep. It’s founded on a study that examines four groups that use food stamps to buy food. One group was given financial incentive to buy healthier food, one was forbidden from buying sugary drinks or snacks, the third was given a combination of both the incentive and restriction, and the fourth— the control— was given no special instruction. The combination group fared best among the four.
While Carroll argues that this could be a great step in fighting obesity, he acknowledges that the likelihood of it happening are very low. The USDA fears that such a move could further stigmatize the food stamp program. It also, historically, favors incentives over restrictions, even though the cited study shows that change is most likely when both are present.