Originally published December 3 2013
Food stamp program creates dependents without improving nutrition or food security, according to study
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) If the government is going to use tax money to provide food and sustenance to Americans in need, shouldn't there be some food standards? Wouldn't it be a better, more efficient use of taxpayer money if the government's food stamp and welfare programs contained nutritional guidelines that actually supported public health, instead of degrading it?
That is pretty sound public policy, but unfortunately, that's not what federal food stamp and food assistance programs do. In fact, according to a new study, government food stamp programs actually undermine nutrition objectives and, at the same time, don't really improve food security for the nation's needy.
Under the Obama administration, a recession combined with poor economic policies have forced millions more Americans onto government food assistance programs. At present, a record 47 million people are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - formerly known as "food stamps." Administered by the Department of Agriculture, the program has grown from 31.9 million since January 2009, when Obama began his first term. In monetary terms, the program costs about $80 billion annually, though beginning Nov. 1, about $5 billion will be cut from the program over the next several months.
After months of participation in SNAP, still low food security
In past years, the program has been shown to reduce poverty among the poorest of Americans while actually helping to generate economic activity. But, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health note, SNAP benefits alone are likely not enough to provide beneficiaries with the kind of long-term food security or dietary quality they need.
"After participating in SNAP for a few months, a substantial proportion of SNAP participants still reported marginal, low, or very low food security, which suggests that SNAP could do more to adequately address the problem of food insecurity," according to lead investigator, Dr. Eric Rimm, Associate Professor in Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. "Although one might hypothesize that the provision of SNAP benefits would result in the purchase and consumption of healthy foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains), there was no appreciable improvement in dietary quality among SNAP participants after the initiation of benefits."
For the study, researchers examined 107 low-income adults from Massachusetts, all of whom had requested and received SNAP assistance from Project Bread, a non-profit, anti-hunger group.
New SNAP participants were more likely to be non-white, of normal weight, of lower household food security, and with lower dietary scores than low-income study participants who were not getting SNAP benefits.
Rimm and his research team discovered a small improvement in food security for both SNAP participants and non-participants following a three-month period but no real significant differences between both groups.
In addition, the team found that consumption of fruits and vegetables was low among study participants, but adults who were receiving SNAP benefits increased consumption of refined grains compared to those who were not receiving SNAP benefits.
Nutrition, cooking classes would help
From a press release detailing the study:
Increased refined grain consumption coupled with the low consumption of healthy foods led the study authors to conclude that "policies, programs, and nutrition education initiatives that improve the nutritional impact of SNAP should be implemented to enhance the program's influence on the diets and well-being of low-income Americans."
For instance, the majority of SNAP participants did support the provision of financial incentives to purchase health foods (like fruits and vegetables), more cooking and/or nutrition education classes as well as restrictions on unhealthy foods (and soda specifically) in order to help SNAP participants adopt better eating habits.
"These efforts should be based on further research to identify... the most effective ways to achieve the federal program's goals of reducing food insecurity and improving the nutritional quality of participants' diets," the press release said.
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