Do Food Stamps Feed Obesity?

Food Aid Blamed for Obesity
According to an April 20 opinion piece by Laura Vanderkam in USA Today, experts found that women who receive food stamps are more likely to be overweight. This is a concern because one in eight Americans receives food stamps.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s with a single mom. She was a lunch waitress in an Italian restaurant. That was the total source of her income. We were never on welfare (food stamps didn’t begin until 1964), although I’m sure we would have qualified.

There wasn’t a lot of money for anything. We NEVER went out to eat. We NEVER had cookies, soda or chips in our house. Guess what, we didn’t starve, (and we weren’t overweight) even though our cupboards were mostly bare. My mom wasn’t the best at planning a food budget, although she DID know how to cook.

Structure of Food Assistance Questioned
Some experts believe the structure in which those on food assistance deserve some of the blame with obesity. Presently, benefits are given electronically once a month. They say the spending cycle is lopsided, leaving families without much food the last week of the month. The average benefit is $124 per month per person. Their answer is twice-monthly payments, forcing people to save a portion of their food budget for the latter part of the month.

I don’t believe that is the solution. First of all, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) is designed to be supplemented with other income. (Notice the word “supplemental” in SNAP.) Food stamps are not intended to be the only source of food for a family. Okay, we know that isn’t always the case.

How Can a Family Live on Less?
A while back, I gave a talk to Colorado Homeless. This is a work/school program and everyone in the program receives food stamps. I thought it would be unrealistic to speak about the importance of whole foods if a family couldn’t afford to purchase them. I used $150, which is half the monthly food provision for two people, (Jefferson County in Colorado the food stamp allotment is $300 per month) and purchased food for two weeks. (This is a little more than the $250, the national average for a month mentioned in the USA Today article.

What makes more sense than staggering the monthly food allotment is to offer a means in which recipients can actually spend less to feed their family. The key to managing on a food stamp budget is to BUDGET.

Parke Wilde from Tufts University said, “Families spend most of their benefits in that first shop.” He goes on to mention that most run out of grocery money the last week of the month.

Bulk shopping makes sense…when a food plan is used. Purchasing larger amounts is more economical when on a limited food budget. Information on how to realistically feed a family for a month on the food allotment is needed, not staggering payments. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people perish from a lack of knowledge.” We need to give families, especially those on food stamps, knowledge on how to manage with a limited budget.

Expensive Processed Foods Eat Up Food Budget
Families will never make it on food stamps alone purchasing expensive nutrient-lacking processed foods. It’s guaranteed they’ll run out of food long before the month has ended if they purchase junk food or snack foods.

In other cultures, people manage to be healthy with little meat. Brown rice and beans make a complete protein. Nutritious recipes can be made using less expensive whole grains. Every culture has vegetarian dishes.

I shopped at only one store for my two-week food plan. I made Spanish rice and beans, cheesy salmon casserole, spinach and tomato medley, lentil pilaf, and grilled chicken breasts. Meat wasn’t featured in every meal, but it wasn’t absent either. Expensive processed breakfast cereals were avoided. Oatmeal (and other grains) made from scratch make an economical and healthy breakfast. The oatmeal can be used for a special treat: cookies.

Processed Foods Feed Obesity
Unhealthy eating habits and obesity will be conquered when families take the time to cook. It’s vital to spend time planning a weekly meal schedule and cooking. Why not start a family on food assistance with a sample monthly shopping list and recipes for the food purchased?

One of my favorite meals my mom would make is bean soup. She’d soak the beans overnight and make the soup the next day. (Dry beans are cheaper than canned beans.) Soups are a wonderful way to stretch food dollars. Spaghetti with a marinara sauce is another economical meatless meal and my mom would make her own sauce.

Whole foods, like fresh produce, whole grains, and dairy, satisfy hunger and pack a lot of nutrition into a few bites. It’s possible to eat whole foods on a food stamp budget. In fact, it’s necessary to make food dollars stretch until the end of the month. Whole foods are nutrient-dense and are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and essential amino and fatty acids. Whole foods take longer to digest, warding off food cravings between meals.

To find out how I spent my food stamp budget Click Here.

3 thoughts on “Do Food Stamps Feed Obesity?

  1. Lisa J. says:

    Great article!!! As someone who is currently unemployed and on a food budget of $300/month for two people, budgeting is critical. I am amazed at how well I can eat including chicken, fish, rice, beans, pasta, fresh vegetables etc. I simply cannot afford to buy many processed foods. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Diana B. says:

    I agree budgeting is everything, whether you’re on food stamps or not. I have three little ones and lost my full time job. Although I still get some freelance work it doesn’t feed a family, so I have had to go on food stamps. I do find that I run out of money for the last week of the cycle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feed the kids. We just eat more soups and sandwiches and spaghetti and left overs that week. I completely disagree with the theory some have that being on food stamps has a causal effect on the recipients weight. For one, I can use my EBT card at Whole Foods. And if I don’t want to drive as far as my closest Whole Foods grocery, I can and do purchase the organic vegetables, fruits and range free eggs and hormone free foods etc. that cost more. These are food options I couldn’t always afford after I had my kids, so in actuality the supplemental food stamps allow me the ability to make better food choices – buying better meats and organic brands. I believe that families that are purchasing processed foods, junk foods, soda pop with their benefits would be making those same types of food choices and purchases with their own money. So I just don’t see how receiving food stamps makes one choose poor quality food and become obese. I do wish that local farmer’s markets, food co-ops and Bulk Food shops accepted food stamps. I would love to be able to buy some things in bulk sizes and I’d like to give more support to my local farmers. Instead I still take advantage of coupons and BOGOs just like when I didn’t have assistance. We don’t eat more, it’s not like we can buy more food with food stamps than before. We still plan meals and shop accordingly each week. And one thing you can’t purchase with Food stamps at the grocery store are any of the “hot” foods or prepared foods (like the rotisserie chicken & deli prepared foods). Anyway, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Donna E says:

    This is a very good article,and I agree with buying bulk,and nutritious foods.That being said I think that the idea of a sort of class or sample list with recipes would be a great help to many. Remember that food stamps are a Government deal,and in being so not designed to be healthy.They provide money with strings and lots of the people on them don’t have their own transportation.Whole Foods stores aren’t always in close proximity.The people buy what fills them at the moment,and the best deals for them.We can buy organic foods at the local chain stores,but the price is significantly higher than conventionally grown.I feel through educating them as you’re saying more folks could actually be helped in a long term sort of way.GO Education! Good article!

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