NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evidence Welfare is Making Recipients Fat

December 9, 2002

Massive expansions in federal food aid to the poor may be making many of them obese. That is the conclusion of some researchers.

  • The nation now spends $18 billion annually on food stamps, $8 billion on school breakfasts and lunches, and $5 billion on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
  • Despite a striking increase in obesity among the poor, government food programs still operate under their nearly half-century assumption that the poor need more food.
  • While 65 percent of Americans, by some estimates, are deemed to be overweight, and nearly half of those obese, rates for the poor are estimated at 5 to 10 percentage points higher.
  • Food stamps provide 20 million people a month up to $465 for a family of four, and the way the program is set up it encourages poor families to spend it on food or lose it.

In addition to the above programs, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families is a welfare program that adds another $12 billion in taxpayer money to payouts to poor families.

Food stamps work as intended: they raise calorie consumption by as much as 10 percent more than if recipients were given cash, according to Department of Agriculture studies. Unused food stamps can't be turned in for cash. So they're used for food that recipients wouldn't otherwise buy.

If we want people to consume food more wisely, observers say, the remedy seems simple enough -- give them cash instead of food stamps, and let them make their own decisions about how much to buy.

Source: Douglas J. Besharov (American Enterprise Institute), "We're Feeding the Poor as if They're Starving," Washington Post, December 8, 2002.


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