Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Food Stamps And Fast Food

by guest blogger Cyndi Laurenti

There's a frightening trend sweeping the nation: allowing those on food assistance and food stamp programs to buy processed, prepackaged foods, including at fast food restaurants, as an alternative to using that assistance only at grocery stores. Despite the efforts of some states to restrict the types of junk food allowed to be purchased with food stamp or food assistance cards, more states are adopting the policy of letting recipients buy some of the unhealthiest foods on the market. However, for some these foods are simply the most economically viable option.

The Reality of the Situation

Unfortunately, fast food is often cheaper than high-quality or organic food. Because the budgets of families that receive food stamps must be counted out to the penny, a $5 meal at a fast food restaurant may seem like the only option when healthy and nutritious food from a grocery store may cost two or three times as much. With such limited income, the choice becomes less a matter of eating something healthy instead of a fast food hamburger and more an issue of simply trying to get the most food for the least amount of money.

Health Risks and Cost to Health Care Programs

Most people are well aware obesity is linked with a great deal of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer. Despite this awareness, food stamps are still being used to purchase food shown to contribute to all of these health problems.

Medicaid and Medicare are likely to be the only viable healthcare options for many who live at or below poverty. With studies showing
a substantial link between income and obesity as well as an increasing population relying on food assistance, the addition of subsidized fast food only stands to make the monetary burden to Medicare and Medicaid even more staggering.

Minimal Food Availability and Food Deserts

In some parts of the nation, especially rural regions or inner city areas with few grocery stores, fast food may be the only affordable food available for people on food assistance. Farmer's markets, a popular means of getting groceries in many rural areas and small towns, don't take food stamps, while in some urban areas grocery stores are surprisingly scarce.

These "food deserts" offer few or no alternatives to prepackaged and processed foods for their respective communities. Until overall changes can take place concerning making healthy food resources more affordable and available, residents in such areas may have few choices but to use food stamps to purchase whatever eligible food might be within reach. Anti-hunger advocates argue that in
these regions people may very well go hungry otherwise. From this perspective, allowing recipients to use food assistance for fast food is the only humane thing to do, though obviously it's no long-term solution.

There is no quick fix to such a complex problem. With the economy still struggling to recover and many middle-class and working poor people simply unable to afford high-quality foods, an overhaul in making nutritious food more affordable is essential. Educating the public on proper eating habits needs to become a priority.
Ultimately, it will be in the best interests of the nation's health if food assistance cannot be used to purchase fast food and prepackaged, processed junk food. However, until healthy food is more affordably available to lower-income citizens, opening up food assistance programs to fast food restaurants may be keeping many from going hungry.
While she figures out her next career move, Cyndi Laurenti works as an online writer and editor. Her primary interests are education, technology, and how to combine them. She enjoys the trees and beaches of the pacific northwest, and looking things up on other people's iPhones.

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1 comment:

  1. I completely disagree. There is an abundance of very cheap foods that are extremely healthy such as oatmeal, beans, banannas, apples, potatoes, cabbage, brown rice, eggs, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, tuna. Most of these foods require some preparation and are not appealing to the majority of Americans since they are hooked on junk/fast/processed food. Herein lies the problem with those folks on food stamps. Many of them are lazy which is why they are on food stamps in the first place and preparing food is not appealing to them. Secondly, most of them are uneducated about what's nutritious and apathetic about their own health. Lastly they are so hooked on junk food that they have literally retrained their taste buds to have no desire for actual real food. This is true of the majority of the US as 25% of Americans now eat fast food every day. There are videos on youtube showing people how to eat for under $100 per month per person and actually eat very healthy. However, this takes time and preparation to plan your meals, purchase the foods, and prepare the food.


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