The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 13, 2013

Food stamp purchases should be healthy

Stop the doublespeak and put nutrition in the Supplemental Nutrition program

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Legislation pending in the U.S. House would require food purchased using federal food stamps at least be healthy for the consumer. Why is this even controversial?

The bill called the Healthy Food Choices Act is in response to criticism that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows for the purchase of billions of dollars in less than healthy food. For something called “supplemental nutrition,” you’d think we’d be a little concerned about nutrition. Apparently not.

Critics say that people that use food stamps don’t have access to healthy food or that healthy food is hard to define. However, under the proposed legislation, food that can be purchased under SNAP would meet the same guidelines for people using the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Those guidelines have several different standards for products such as cereal, milk, vegetables and other foods. If it works for WIC, it can work for SNAP.

In a report by The Hill, breakfast cereal, for example, must contain certain levels of iron, cannot contain more than 21.2 grams of sugar per 100 grams of cereal and must have whole grain as a primary ingredient to be bought under the WIC program.

It’s been widely understood that “junk” food and sugary soft drinks do little to end hunger and, in fact, present medical problems.

Nutritionists have pointed out that junk food doesn’t contain the basic nutrients such as protein and good carbohydrates a body needs. And high levels of sugar put stress on our metabolism.

Michelle Obama, during the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act said: “We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. ... These are the basic values that we all share, regardless of race, party, religion. This is what we share. These are the values that this bill embodies.”

Two years after that legislation was signed, a study found that food stamps enable about $2 billion worth of junk food purchases each year, and that more than half of all SNAP benefits are used to buy sugary drinks.

It’s time we moved away from “doublespeak” and put some effectiveness behind the supplemental nutrition program with real nutrition.