Fix food stamps
When Catherine Templeton, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, tells you she wants to end the obesity epidemic in our state, she is very serious. I have never had such backing from someone in such a position in my 12 years of treating kids with extreme obesity.
Like Ms. Templeton, I am concerned that our government is fueling this epidemic instead of solving it. The food stamp program is an example. Prior to food stamps, in the Great Depression, malnutrition was a serious problem. The food stamp program put surplus food into 20 million hungry mouths.
Fast-forward to today. More than the program’s name has changed. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cost taxpayers $65 billion in 2010. As of October of 2011, the program was feeding 46 million Americans. Malnutrition is virtually gone.
Unfortunately, we now suffer from mis-nutrition. Obesity costs us $190 billion per year in direct medical costs. Almost three quarters of Americans are either overweight or obese.
Clearly, there is something wrong with what’s going in our shopping carts. There is too little meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, and too much processed, packaged, shrink-wrapped pseudo-food. Sadly, American taxpayers are paying for a fair amount of it.
South Carolina should think very seriously about strictly limiting what foods can be purchased with the money we provide SNAP program participants. Certainly we already impose limitations: Beneficiaries can’t use their EBT cards to buy alcohol or cigarettes. Why not bar spending tax money to purchase foods that are making us fat and sick?
Where would you draw the line? If it comes from the meat, seafood, produce or dairy sections, it’s probably good to go.
Or maybe we could use an even more general standard: If my 100-year-old grandmother would recognize it as food, it is.
On the other hand, if the ingredients include added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic trans-fats, industrial seed oils or any ingredient name longer than four syllables, put it back on the shelf or buy it with your own money.
Our foundation works with a 17-year old girl who weighs 495 pounds. At home she’s fed a diet of convenience store food, bought at convenience store prices, largely at taxpayer expense. Unless she conquers her problem, she’ll need knee replacement surgery before she leaves her 20s, and in her 30s her hips will fail. Taxpayers can expect to pay for a long stay in a nursing home because of the toll diabetes will take on her vision and limbs.
That sound you hear in the distance is Washington lobbyists frenzied at the mere suggestion that there should be nutritional standards for food we let people buy with taxpayer dollars. The makers of hyper-processed, chemical-laden frankenfoods aren’t going to surrender so much money.
We solved the program of malnutrition by helping people buy food. We’ll make a dent in the problem of mis-nutrition by helping people buy the right food. We can’t afford not to.LOUIS YUHASZ
Founder, Louie’s Kids