NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Food Stamps Contribute to Obesity

March 13, 2003

In a time of mass obesity, encouraging the poor to consume more food makes no sense at all, says researcher Douglas Besharov. He suggests that federal food programs are to blame for some of the rise, saying there is too much focus on high-calorie intake and not enough -- or any -- on teaching healthy eating habits.

Citing research by the Department of Agriculture, the Surgeon General, the American Dietary Association and other agencies, Besharov says America's neediest are far more likely to be at risk of death and disease because of overeating than starvation

Food stamps and other federal meal programs, he says, were launched at a time when hunger was a serious threat to the underprivileged. Today, most of the poor have no problem getting enough to eat.

  • In spite of the fact that millions of Americans have stopped receiving public assistance, the government spent $40 billion on food programs last year, more than ever before.
  • When the poor are given food stamps instead of cash, they will consume 20 percent more food, he said.
  • About 16 percent of low-income children are either overweight or obese, twice the rate of other children.

That puts federally-funded school breakfast and lunch programs -- which are mandated to provide 60 percent of students' total daily caloric intake -- under the microscope.

Besharov thinks the government should continue to fund food programs but needs to change the emphasis from quantity and caloric intake to nutrition counseling and healthy eating habits. He also argues that the government cannot do it all -- that individuals must bear responsibility for their choices.

Source: Dan Spring, "Research Links Food Stamps and Obesity,", January 9, 2003.

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