As local governments move to combat obesity and promote healthy eating, food stamps, or SNAP benefits are one of the easiest ways the government can regulate junk food consumption. Ultimately SNAP benefits are given to people with low-incomes, among whom obesity, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions are more prevalent. SNAP benefits are provided through cards that look like ordinary credit cards, and are often used to purchase food with no nutritional value, like chips, candy, cookies and sugary soda.
Now health experts and lawmakers are considering that SNAP benefits should come with some strings attached, to ensure that they are spent in the most beneficial way. Many fiscal conservatives and liberal health officials support amending SNAP benefits, while the food industry, anti-regulation conservatives and liberal advocates for the poor oppose restricting the individual choice of what people should eat.
The food industry in particular could have a lot to lose if these restrictions pass, as junk food provides them with huge profits. The food industry proposes educating low-income households on proper nutrition and the risks associated with excess junk food.
A larger problem at hand is that many low-income households are located in “food deserts” where access to fresh produce and even groceries is extremely difficult. In these areas many people rely on convenience stores or fast food options, but supporters of SNAP restrictions claim that these stores will start stocking more nutritious alternatives if their customers have no other options for what to purchase.
Several precedents to these proposed restrictions have already passed. Mayor Bloomberg has worked to ban saturated fats, post restaurant nutritional information, and is currently seeking to ban the purchase of large quantities of soda. The Women, Infants and Children program includes many restrictions on what food products their clients purchase with their benefits. The food they purchase must have nutritional value, and markets already are educated as to what those items are.
SNAP benefits and other forms of food assistance are crucial for millions of Americans, but as obesity rates continue to climb legislators are looking for any possible way to promote healthier lifestyles. Though no official laws have been drafted, SNAP benefits will most likely become far more regulated.
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