Let’s Move! Away From Food Stamps

Yesterday, in his Washington Times commentary “Obama’s Obesity Epidemic,” James Bovard points out that one possible cause of the “obesity epidemic” is government food stamps.

Numerous studies going back to the 1970s have linked food stamps to poor eating habits. Baruch College professor Diane Gibson estimated that participation in the food-stamp program for five years boosted the odds of young girls being overweight by 43 percent. Professor Charles Baum, writing in the Southern Economic Journal, estimated that food-stamp recipients are far more likely to be obese than eligible nonrecipients and warned that “chronic food-stamp receipt may promote lifestyle changes that lead to weight gain.”

Just to be clear, I think cutting food stamps should be the lowest of Congress’ priorities. As Tad Cronn points out, Congress should deal with the problems in the economy rather than cut off a few people from food who are suffering in the bad economy.

But if we’re going to give families food, we should not do so blindly. Yet blindness is a demand of the Obama Administration.

The Obama administration portrays food stamps as a nutrition program while blocking reforms to exclude purchases of the worst kinds of junk food. The administration did not support an amendment to the farm bill by Rep. Tom Marino, Pennsylvania Republican, to compel the U.S. Department of Agriculuture to disclose how recipients spend their food stamps. Most food stamps are redeemed at large grocery chains or big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, which could easily provide itemized receipts for all food-stamp purchases. The Obama administration is also fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from The Argus Leader, a South Dakota newspaper, seeking food-stamp expenditure data. The administration apparently feels entitled to treat such information as a “state secret.”

I don’t think that it is wrong for people to enjoy junk food. Even if we cut off those kinds of purchases, people on food stamps would still be more likely to be able to afford “the worst kind of junk food” if they really wanted it. After all, money is fungible. If we contribute some necessities then the recipient will not need to worry about those essentials and will be able to spend some of his own money on the “junk food.” But, getting access to a better diet would encourage him to at least eat those essentials and not try to live on only “junk food.” Also, it would send a message about how we are trying to help.

The message would be far more consistent with what the First Lady has been saying about eating and exercising.