Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Study links Food Stamp use to weight gain - a boon for EBT at Farmers Markets?

A nationwide study released today by researchers at the Ohio State University links the use of food stamps to increased weight gain, particularly among females. The study found that the Body Mass Index (BMI) of food stamp recipients increased faster when they were receiving the food stamps than when they were not, and increased more the longer they were enrolled in the program.

This news isn't entirely surprising, considering the multitude of factors that are at play when considering poverty and health. The poorest members of our community are the least likely to exercise, and most likely to buy cheap, high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. A person's access to and education about healthy, nutritious food is typically proportional to his or her income. Most of the time these facts aren't the result of choice, but rather circumstance: "cheap" foods are often the only option, given the amount of a person's weekly income used toward food.

The press release that accompanies the study ends with the obvious bits of information: the foods made available to people on food stamps are not the healthiest, and better access to healthier foods needs to be a top priority for policymakers. From the study:
Government statistics showed that the average recipient received $81 in food stamps per month in 2002, the last year examined in this study.

"That figure was shocking to me." (Study co-author Jay) Zagorsky said. "I think it would be very difficult for a shopper to regularly buy healthy, nutritious food on that budget."

That's because calorie-dense, high-fat, processed foods tend to be less expensive than more healthy choices.

Zagorsky said policymakers should aim at changing the types of food that program participants purchase.
Farmers' Markets are an obvious starting point for discussion about increasing this access. But we need to work toward more education at national benefit banks and Child and Family Services offices. Much of the time, all it takes is a push in the right direction for a positive change to happen. Hopefully this study will be the impetus for a more intensive look into the issue of healthful-food access to everyone in our community.


Kaitlyn Baker said...

My fiance and I were JUST talking about this study. Ugh--I hate that the "cheapest" food ends up costing people so much more in health. I think that there should be a built-in reward for people who buy fresh food (fruits, vegetables, etc.) with their food stamps. For instance, when an item is scanned that qualifies as fresh (let's say, a bag of apples) then a small amount of money is added on to their card or at least deducted from the total bill. I think if people had higher food stamp allotments and incentives to eat healthier, they might just try it! The same "reward" system should especially apply at farmers' markets--buying healthy and local? You can't beat that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea to give incentives for buying qualifying healthy foods especially local sources like Farmer's Market. However, I don't think larger allotments in food stamps would change eating habits. It would just allow folks to buy more of the foods that they are use to eating.