Food for Thought: Feb-Mar 2017
We’re Subsidizing an Unhealthy Nation
By Chris Valentine
In January the United States Department of Agriculture released the results of a study that provides the first glimpse into grocery purchases made by people using benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which replaced food stamps in 2008. SNAP is a $74 billion USDA program that is our country’s primary nutritional safety net, serving 43 million low-income Americans. In Kentucky, there are 872,439 recipients who spend more than $1.3 billion each year.
According to the survey, the number one purchase nationally is soft drinks, accounting for about $3.7 billion. Almost $15 billion was spent on junk food, a category that includes sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar.
Sugary beverages undermine our health. While evidence clearly shows that sugar, obesity and Type 2 diabetes are linked, sugary beverages top the list of reimbursed products under SNAP. As public health care costs climb, we are subsidizing at both ends the very products responsible for the problem. The USDA provides billions to farmers to grow corn. Subsidized corn is used to produce high-fructose corn syrup for the soda industry, causing our public health costs to soar.
We in the United States consume more sugary drinks than almost any other developed country, so as a nation we are drinking too much soda. We also spend more on health care. Lobbyists for the beverage and agribusiness industries have successfully blocked thoughtful reform until now. Government policy that undermines our ability, rich and poor alike, to produce, purchase and eat healthy foods needs to be examined and improved. We desperately need an ongoing national conversation about the links between nutrition, health and agricultural policy. As we continue this vital work within our local food economy, supporting our local farmers, producers and retailers becomes ever more important.