Hunger hoaxes hinder food stamp reform, by James Bovard

Here’s a paradox: many of the people who receive food stamps, presumably because they are hungry and need food, are certifiably obese. From James Bovard at thehillcom:

Hunger hoaxes hinder food stamp reform

The Trump administration is pushing radical changes in the food stamp program as part of the farm bill. Reform efforts may be derailed by activists who vastly exaggerate hunger and portray food handouts as the epitome of social justice. But federal food handouts have already done far too much damage to Americans’ health.

Food stamps are now feeding 42 million people. Twitter activists created a #HandsOffSNAP hashtag to seek to block any efforts at reform. But, while politicians portray food stamps as a nutrition program (Congress changed the name to Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, in 2008), they are actually a blank check to buy more calories.

Food stamps have long been a dietary disaster. Walter Willett, chair of Harvard University’s Department of Nutrition, observed, “We’ve analyzed what (food stamp) participants are eating and it’s horrible food. It’s a diet designed to produce obesity and diabetes.” A 2017 public health study found that food stamp recipients were twice as likely to be obese as eligible non-recipients. Similarly, a 2015 USDA report revealed that food stamp recipients are more likely to be obese than eligible non-recipients (40 percent vs. 32 percent).

Food stamps are a perpetual bailout for the junk food industry. A 2016 USDA report revealed that soft drinks are the most common commodity purchased in food stamp households. Together, “sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar” account for 20 percent of food stamp expenditures. Food stamp recipients consume twice as many of their daily calories from sugar-sweetened beverages as do higher incomes groups (12 percent vs. 6 percent), according to a 2015 study in Preventive Medicine.

A federal program designed simply to boost calorie consumption makes no sense at a time when obesity is rampant. Forty-four percent of low-income women are obese; the rate is even higher for black (56 percent) and Hispanic (49 percent).

Food stamps are justified to prevent hunger but the federal government does not even attempt to collect data on how many Americans actually go hungry.  The National Academy of Sciences urged USDA to create a hunger gauge in 2006 but the agency has done nothing on that score. Instead, USDA conducts annual surveys measuring a vaporous notion of “food security” — which can simply mean uncertainty about being able to afford groceries in the future or not being able to afford the organic food one prefers. Though USDA stresses that the survey is not a measure of hunger, its results (and those of similar surveys) are perennially twisted to maximize teeth-gnashing.

To continue reading: Hunger hoaxes hinder food stamp reform

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