Monday, January 03, 2005

Food stamps and obesity

How can you tell when a government report found something interesting? When the caveat in the executive summary is shouted in loud italics: "It should be noted that this research was not designed to assess program impacts or in any way attribute differences observed between FSP participants and either group of nonparticipants to an effect of the program." This line certainly made me want to read the latest report on food stamps and nutrition, released last week by USDA's Economic Research Service.

You can see for yourself what might have raised eyebrows. Consider the mean body mass index (BMI) for food stamp participants and two comparison groups (BMI > 25 means "overweight" and BMI > 30 means "obese"). For women in particular, food stamp participants are more likely to be overweight:


But now consider the women's self-perception of their weight. Food stamp participants are less likely to perceive themselves as overweight.


The report's authors are surely right to avoid jumping to conclusions from one study, but at the very least this pattern raises the rank of comparatively burdensome policy options: heavier emphasis on nutrition education, for example, or targeted "green stamps" for fruits and vegetables, at least as part of the benefit package.

In any case, there has already been more than one such study. Economist Diane Gibson published an interesting article about the positive association between food stamp participation and risk of obesity a couple years ago. It seems to be available free online from the Journal of Nutrition(but please let me know if the link fails to work). Overall, the association between food stamps and obesity has been found in diverse data sources. The question is why? This is a question I will follow as this weblog develops.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Carbohydrates are cheap relative to protein. If you believe the Atkins diet, they cause obesity. If food stamps are your entire food budget for a month, you will tend to buy what is cheap and filling.

Anonymous said...

As a checker at a grocery store, I have noticed a strange fact. (and by fact I mean FACT) I can always recognize people who are going to use food stamps by what is in their cart. Processed foods, frozen dinners, bags of candy and pop. Lots of pop. In fact, most of them will put back items like milk or bread in order to buy pop if they don't have enough food stamps to cover their entire order. What is also amazing is that 99% of these people are overweight. And, if they happen to bring their children along shopping, 90% of their children are overweight. Imagine getting somewhere around $400 a month in food stamps and spending it on Hot Pockets and TV dinners. Rarely do they buy any foods of substance or food that you have to prepare. Geez, do you think there is a connection between the #1 problem in American children (obesity) and being on welfare? Work at a grocery store for one week and you'll have your answer.

Anonymous said...

This is because the government gives people way too much money in food stamps. While I struggled when I was first married buying generic mac and cheese and Hydrox (generic brand of Oreo) cookies, our poorer friends who got to be on food stamps were buying Kraft mac and cheese and Oreo brand-name cookies not to mention big hords of meat and snacks while we suffered eating tuna fish and making 1 box of Little Debbie Snack Cakes last 4 people a whole week. The government overestimates how much money people need for food. Food stamps waste our tax dollars. I'll never forget when I was a cashier long ago, and a woman bought $400 of meat on her Food Stamps "Independence" card. No normal family does that.

Anonymous said...

In answer to the previous comment, the average monthly food stamp payment is around $200.00. Most families on food stamps are not going out spending large amounts of money on food....they are barely getting by.


Anonymous said...

When I worked at a grocery store, you could always tell when food stamps had paid off. People would walk in with huge loads of crap. Food stamp money was used to buy steaks, candy, soda, chips, and other crap. You would see these people come in at other times of the month to purchase other items, fairly healthy ones at that. They used food stamps to buy junk. And before the swipe cards, when they got the "ghetto coupons", it was really pathetic. Change under a dollar was given in real money. Parents would send their kids in to buy candy bars with dollar coupons, and then they would come buy a pack of cigarettes with quarters. It was pitiful. far too much abuse and fraud. They should move these people to a system like WIC, which forces healthy purchases of basic food items.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at some of the comments here. Not all food stamp recipients are "abusers" of the program. We were on food stamps for a time when my husband was laid off and had to take a lower paying job. We watched the sales like crazy, but I remember buying a large beef pot roast (if I remember right it was $12 or so) and thinking that I could get atleast 3, maybe 4, meals from it, and the cashier had the audacity to make a snide comment about how folks paying with cash couldn't afford to buy a pot roast. Its the mentality that if you get food stamps you should only be able to buy hamburger or the absolute cheapest things there are. But in all actuality, sometimes those cheaper meats can not be stretched as far as some others. I certainly couldn't get 3-4 meals out of the same amount of hamburger. Also, there is this mentality that people who get food stamps should never be allowed a treat or an easy meal. I also remember a sarcastic cashier when I purchased a dozen T.V. dinners for our family. I am quite positive that she didn't know that the stomach flu was going thru our family and someone had to be able to feed the kids (even if it was just the teens doing the cooking) when mom finally caught the bug.
My point is this: until you live in that families shoes, don't judge them by what is in their grocery cart. Not everyone knows how to cook from scratch from staples. It would be good if they did but unfortunately home ec just isn't considered an important class anymore.
I do understand that there are folks who abuse their food stamps and only buy garbage, but to judge all families by that is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

You said :

"Also, there is this mentality that people who get food stamps should never be allowed a treat or an easy meal"

Tell me why MY TAX DOLLARS should provide you and others with "treats"?

I have been in situations like some of the other posters where I had to scrape to buy groceries,I STILL have to pay taxes.

So as I wait in line with my discounted chicken, and store brand noodles. I'll see someone with a cartload of Steaks, Seafood, Deli items and general CRAP whip out their EBT card.As I stand there with my reduced chicken and noodles... I am thinking "_I_ technically PAID for their groceries!"

_I_ and a lot of other people cant afford "treats" and even some of the nicer things you imply...BUt I should pay for yours???

Anonymous said...

It is funny the last person who said something about "why should i have to pay for your treats" or something like that. Ok, yes I know there are people who sit on their butts, collecting g'ment money and benefits and never lifting a finger or making an effort to work. But then there are those that due to whatever situation, who work for a living but still just don't have QUITE enough to make ends meet. It's funny you only had that one line as a response. I say funny, because it's not just your tax dollars. I pay taxes too. Granted I get a decent chunk back at the end of the year, but in the mean time sometimes its hard to make ends meet.

I am aggravated myself because when my family had come into some money issues (son was in hospital, lots of bills etc), I was at the assistance place to sign up for this kind of stuff. I saw LOTS of nice new cars in the parking lot to the place. Here I am thinking I'm blessed that I even have a car, even if it is a crappy beater car, and there's brand new cars in the lot. I go in and these people have name brand close purses, etc. But I can't judge them-because I don't know what they're situation is individually. Granted it is frustrating, because for two months while waiting to be approved (even though we had NO income) we got no money at all and practically starved in the meantime. Never collected welfare or anything like that either. And when we finally did get back on our feet, we were still considered under the poverty line but we were deadset on being self sufficient as soon as we were able.

I know some of you think that food stamp participants get too much money but its simply not the case. The max (we recieved the max when my husband was unemployed temporarily) is 1 dollar, per meal, per person, equaling 21 a week per person. Which, unless you have a large family and split meat up (like that pot roast the lady mentioned) it doesnt stretch very far. The people who buy junk don't buy it because participants get all this money to waste, its because they are bad with money. Not everyone is like that. In fact, most people, i would bet, you wouldn't know they participated just by looking at their cart-unless you saw the card.

You guys that work in the grocery stores are pretty self righteous to be talking about people without even giving them a chance to defend their actions-right or wrong. Next time, think twice about posting personal info about other people (names mentioned or not) without their permission. It's rude! ;D

Anonymous said...

ARRRRGHHHH you people make me CRAZY!!! "tell me why my tax dollars." blah blah blah.. hey RETARD.. I HAD A JOB I PAID FOR IT TO!!!i PAID MY GD TAXES.. so now when i have my food stamps because of problems.. I PAID FOR IT.. YOU DIDN'T so shut your self riteous gaping hole you call a mouth. and no i don't get a lot of money.. i have $150 to last THE WHOLE MONTH in food.. i buy ramen, mac n cheese, etc etc.. i buy a whole bunch of crap that each thing costs like a dollar.. and i have to buy crap food to do it to make that last a whole month i would very much like to be able to afford healthy foods.. but again that food needs to be NON-PERISHABLE i can't afford to buy foods that will spoil within a week or i cannot freeze to get more time out of.. i buy breads, soups etc etc.. so don't come on my doorstep on your gd highshorse.. take $5 and tell me what you are going to buy that will feed you 3 times in one day.. and no that doesn't mean go spend $40 and use only a $5 portion of it... no take $5 goto the store.. and buy your food for the day. and the guy saying he worked as a checker... you can screw right off.. when i was younger my father owned a grocery store.. i saw them too.. and no they didn't buy candy and steaks they bought milk, and veggies and bought things that would make multiple meals. i only saw occasional candy and pop.. so yah RETARDS>>> GET BENT.. and i hope you choke

Anonymous said...

ok...coming from a family that recieves food stamps I get really annoyed when I see people come thru my line at work (i'm a cashier) and they have more bags of hot cheetoes and corn crispies then you can imagine. They have cookies, candy and chips and don't forget the hords of soda. It disgusts me that i recieve food stamps and actually use it for what it is intended help you not go hungry and give you nutritional substance. I buy my kids fruits and veggies and 100% juices and all the healthy stuff that this country has forgotten about. I understand the TV dinner thing and the top ramen, cause some of us only get the bare minumum from the program. That's why the damn government needs to put restrictions on what people should beable to buy with the EBT card. Junk food is a can't buy alcohol and energy drinks with it, so why not make it for junk food also? Last time i checked soda is not in one of the basic food groups to live so cut all that crap out. If you wanna spend money on that garbage spend your own money...not the money the goverment is giving to help you in your time of need....second they need to make it mandatory that these recipients of foodstamps complete classes like they do for the WIC program. When you get Wic you have to attend classes so many times a year to help teach you food prepping, what kinds of foods to buy, and even how to look at that thing most of us don't know...the lable!!! It's one small step to educating the poor on what could potentially help save their health.

Anonymous said...

Wal- mart and Aldi's(the foodstampers friends)should both install running tracks around the store. Stampers should be required to sprint around and make their purchases. It would be lighting a fire under the asses of some of these lazy bums. Get rid of the Wal-Mart land subs that beep..bee.. beep and require people to move.Where is the SHAME of living off the government?

Anonymous said...

Let's try this:

I'm a college graduate who teaches at a university while getting my master's degree. My contract doesn't allow me to work at another job while school is in session and I live well below the federal poverty level. During the two summer months I am allowed other employment, no one wants to hire me because no one wants a two month employee. Fifteen job applications filled out--zero jobs. At the interview I'm told that I'm a good candidate with a good record and yet they refuse to hire such temporary help.

Now, the money I've saved from working pays my rent and my electric--the only two bills I have. I do not drive unless necessary. My mother is taking undergraduate classes full time and my father is disabled (not on disability). My only option if I want to eat this summer was to apply for foodstamps.

It's nothing to be ashamed of. I pay my taxes, have for the past eight years, since I was fifteen and now I'm gladly take what the government is offering. I'm so sick of people who don't know what it is to be poor, to not be able to buy Christmas presents for people, to have to live for weeks off of ramen, to complain about any type of welfare program.

Just stop, until you've been in someone else's shoes. I've known a fair amount of people on foodstamps in my life and many of them are good, hardworking people who legitimately needed the extra help. It just makes me sad to be so many selfish, hateful people in the world. Stop complaining and go do some volunteer work (they'll hire you for that, even if it's only two months and then in your spare time).

Anonymous said...

Ok, my husband, children, and I get food stamps and the children get WIC. I will be the first to admit that we get a pretty substantial amount each month. We are not lazy, nor are we dirty. My husband works, and I'm a full-time student studying to be a registered veterinary technician. It really, really annoys me that people are judging ALL of us who receive food stamps by some that do not use them responsibly. First and foremost, I use mine to feed my children. I buy plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, bread, eggs, flour, butter, and other things needed to prepare a meal. I cook every single day. I will be the first to admit that sometimes we also buy soda pop, chips, or cookies if we have a little left over. It is not only YOUR tax dollar that is buying our food, it is ours, too. Why should my children have to suffer and never be entitled to a treat just because we are low income? It isn't their fault.

Another thing that is bugging me is people complaining that food stamp recipients should only be allowed to buy healthy food and then turning around complaining about them buying seafood, steaks, etc. In case you haven't noticed, seafood is a very healthy food, as is sirloin steak. What is wrong with someone purchasing a large sirloin and feeding their entire family for a couple of meals? It's a double-edged sword. You complain if they buy junk food, you complain if they are buying healthy stuff. Grow up and quit worrying about what others are buying.

Unknown said...

Reading many of these comments saddened me. People are so quick to judge. I am a social worker and I know for a fact that not everyone on welfare is a scumbag, nor are the 'majority' of them scumbags. The people that act so righteous will eventually have to face God with that attitude with is much more serious than worrying about what other people eat. Instead of scorning others why not pray for them. They are obviously going through diffult times and need it. God bless.

usfoodpolicy said...

I'm with Emily. Hard questions and comments, fine, but with respect!

Anonymous said...

I kind of see both sides of this. I was raised to support myself and feel shame about accepting welfare. I'm now a single mom working and going to school, but still never used any government assistance even though I qualify. But then they doubled my property taxes and my only options were food stamps or government housing (My mortgage is lower than rent anywhere in the city). So now I'm on food stamps, and I buy more expensive stuff than I would without them. I don't buy any junk at all,not even white pasta or sugar-cereal, but I do admit to buying lean meats and organic products that I can only afford because of the food stamps, and I totally take advantage of the healthier convenience foods. And I find the whole thing funny because my food stamp funds come from the property taxes that I can't afford to pay without food stamps.

Anonymous said...

in response to someone's $5 a day that's it...

Give me $5 I'll buy $1.99 meijer organic whole grain capellini pasta, and $1.99 organic pasta sauce (1.79 each of they're on sale). That's 8 servings of pasta and 6 servings of sauce for 1 day. Maybe an apple or alfalfa sprouts for the last $1+.

The next day use most of the $5 for T. Marzetti caesar salad dressing, around $3-$3.50, and the last $1.50 for a bunch of fresh Kale, loaded with more RDA per serving of Vitamins A, C, and K, along with Manganese, B6, calcium, potassium, and plenty other traces of vitamins and minerals ramen doesnt have, that can be around 8-10 servings of salad with great dressing for that day.

The next day, $3 for a pound of fresh cut mixed fruit (melons/berries), and a $2 can of meijer organic chili, loaded with fiber and protein.

The next day I'd get some meijer organic ricemilk (enriched with plenty of vitamins and minerals, 20-100% DV) for $2, meijer organic cereal, toasted oats for $2. and $1for whatever

Now, lets say I bought all of those in 1 day, that's 4 days of a good breakfast (cereal), lunch (pasta), and dinner (large salad), as well as some fresh fruit and chili, much of it organic, all of it healthy.

Mix it up with $2 for 2 lbs of heart healthy oats, and $2 for cinnamon and there's THIRTY flavorful fibrous meals for only $4, just add water!

I understand it would be hard to do this every day, but there are tons of possibilities out there, and every pound of fat on us provides 3500 calories of energy (remember the FAT food stamp people correlation?) substituting that fat for food, if possible, is a great technique for getting through those tough times. with a healthy diet (although my listed portions will still leave you hungry) anyone should be able to make it out alive, and if they want in better physical shape than they started.

My position is neutral, I'm obviously against exploiting food stamps if one doesn't need them each situation must be looked at individually, please read what I have offered and use critical thinking, might it work? remember this isn't a lifestyle, it SHOULD BE a temporary situation.

Anonymous said...

You people are horrible I am not going to say what I would really like to say but instead of fighting about what you should or should not be able to buy with food stamps, maybe try going back to work or making an effort to feed yourself and your families wether its with food stamps or not it doesn't matter. People are quick to judge but read the papers the average families in america are one pay check from being in a homeless shelter. I hope you remember what you say about people who collect food stamps to take care of there families no matter what they are eating when your in the line at the department of needy families getting food stamps...there should be no shame in needing assistance no matter what foods you purchase. Its not about "treats" its about food. Some of you people should really do your never know if your going to end up in the soup kitchen line. I lost my job 2 weeks ago and its very hard to find another one I have been looking and looking I went from making 82k a year to 390 a week in unemployment oh lets not mention I have a 5 year old and I am a single mom. Not everyone skims off the gov't and uses "YOUR tax dollars"

Anonymous said...

These are the most judgemental posts I have ever read. I agree when a poster said "you can't judge ". We have always been able to provide for our family. Now that my husband is going back to school and can't have a job we are on food stamps. We are living with family, and on about 200 dollars a month for gas, clothes, etc. If it wasn't for this program we would literally starve. I think we are all blessed to live in a country where our citizens get a little help when they are going through a rough spot. I used to be frustrated with people on food stamps too. We NEVER thought we would be living like this... ever. So watch what you say before you lose a job and have food stamps until you can get back on your feet!

Anonymous said...

Looks like to me that the one who is screwing everyone over is the government themselves,so people need to stop pointing fingers at each other.The same people who look down on others for recieving food stamps,where are they at now? I tell you where they are,,most likely the next one in line signing up to recieve food stamps themselves.

Anonymous said...

Wow, i have never in my life read more judgemental CRAP, then i have here today. I myself am a young single mother who works part time, goes to school full time, and yes recieves food stamps. My family and I have paid thousands of dollars in taxes over the years, so i think i've earned my "treats" from the government. I'm not planning on being on food stamps for the rest of my life, but there is a reason that it's called assistance, and im taking advantage of every bit of ASSISTANCE that i can. My question is...why are American people so selfish? "My tax dollars paid for those frozen dinners!" so what? who cares?

usfoodpolicy said...

I'm glad to see the interest this post is still generating, almost four years later. I should add that I agree about not being judgmental, and am glad that the Food Stamp Program largely defers to the wisdom of participants in deciding what groceries to buy. I hope the readers who were annoyed (either by this post or by some of the other comments) continue to follow the new material on the blog to get a fuller sense of its perspective on nutrition policy issues than one can get from this post alone. Welcome!

Anonymous said...

I am a 37 year old single female. This is my first time ever on food stamps. I lost my job over a year ago and then lost everything I owned including my car and house and ended up living in a motel. I found another job two months later and just managed to scrape by on what I made. Then the economy went kaput and I got laid off. My unemployment is 416 every two weeks. 400 goes to pay the motel bill for two weeks to keep a roof over my head. That 16 bucks leftover buys things like soap, shampoo, toilet paper, etc. Thank goodness I applied for food stamps or I'd really be screwed. I have to buy so called convenience foods simply because I do live in a motel - no oven. However, I do buy healthy foods somewhat because I have a burner and a slow cooker. I have worked since I was 16 years old...and paid taxes as well. So for those who say that they are paying for my food - wrong. For those who sit there criticizing what people buy...take a minute and think about what life they might be living. Are they living in a car? Are they living in a motel with no way to make so called healthy meals from scratch? Those cupcakes they just bought - could it be to bring to their child's school because it is their turn and they have no way to bake them themselves or their school doesn't even permit homemade goods to be brought to school?

Anonymous said...

I get food stamps and STILL have to go without food for nearly a week sometimes.

My job pays SHIT, and my rent, while fairly cheap, I have my car payment, insurance, etc to pay for. I already cut cable which most people have and just take for granted. I freeze during the winter and scorch during the summer.

If I didn't have food stamps, I wouldn't be able to eat, plain and simple.

I buy crap like ramen and government milk, mac n cheese, soups, just nothing really healthy at all it seems with how little i get on my card.

I run out before the month is up, and just oh well, gotta make it those last few days with nothing.

It just sucks when you're working to the bone to barely be able to pay bills and then have people pissed off about food stamps because I don't have some deluxe job. Yes I graduated high school and went through college, there are just no jobs in the area and i can't just pick up and leave.

I'd love to buy healthier things , but i can't afford it, to make things last i have to buy ramen and if you really want to talk about fattening, there you go.

oh and fuck your taxes, i have to pay them too, so i guess i'm buying my own dinners too , even with my food stamps.

and no, you're not paying for my dinner, because you'd be paying tax for some shit anyway, so stop pissing and moaning because people abuse it. there will be people who abuse any and everything in the world.




Anonymous said...

To all of you who worry that I might just be enjoying soda and candy: You have very little power in your life huh? Thats why you love that little feeling of supieriority you get by screaming about my frozen onion rings!
And you say my life is messed up?
Oh yeah, the jobless rate may soon be up to 11% You will be on food stamps too.

Anonymous said...

War overseas, war against drugs, food stamps, opera or ballet, education,Citigroup, everyone has something they don't want their tax dollars spent on. And most people have something which they do want their tax dollars spent on. Unless every taxpayer agrees with you about every tax dollar spent, why should anything you want funded be funded?

It sounds like maybe food stamps should be distributed weekly instead of monthly. (If you gave me 400 dollars a month, for me personally, and I had to spend it all on food, I think I'd probably splurge, too, and then scrounge for necessities for the rest of the month.)* The plastic card format should make this a pretty easy reform to enact.

* Okay, I lied. I grew up on welfare in Canada, and my mother received money once a month, and we ate pretty good for most of a week, and then it was pretty cruddy for the rest of the month. Which taught me to be frugal. So I probably wouldn't blow all the money on fun food. But I understand it. Being poorer than a lot of the people around you can be pretty depressing. And crummy carbs are a great pacifier.
Why resent people, who do need to eat, buying crap? Why not just be concerned?

Anonymous said...

I believe that most people that make horrid comments about "ebt"users are the ones who have applied and for whatever reason they were denied,or they were just raised improperly.When I see a man/woman pull out their wallet to pay for something and I see a huge wadd of 100's I do not stand there judging him in my head or making rude remarks,I do not walk in his/her shoes nor do I live their lives.just as they do not walk in mine or live my life.there are millions of problems in this country,one of them being obesity/unhealthy eating habits.this stems from more then poor shopping habits.a person can purchase any type of food they wish to,as it is their choice to sit in front of the t.v and eat it all in one sitting.
here's a big shocker,cashiers also get food stamps,people who make rude remarks get food stamps,the person sitting next to you,or the car in the next lane,that person giving you that dirty look,probrably gets food stamps.
people just should stop judging,another problem.
remember,when you point the finger,3 are pointing right back at you...

Anonymous said...

I get food stamps and yes I always, and that's always buy Crap. I Buy Cupcakes, little debbie cakes, twinkies, fritos, ruffles potatoe chips, popcorn, all kinds of candies, and all types of wonderful soda. I do buy lots of fruit, BUT i use that make my Homemade Pruno. It actually Turns out to be Very Tasty. 2009 has been a very good Pruno Year.
We also get wonderful Medical Assistance and an Incredible Amount of Cash Assistance for all of our kids. Ahhhh you Americans are really a bunch of Weak People. And now that you elected Your Messiah as President We will be able to get our Brothers and Sisters in Gitmo a lawyer and Access to the American Legal System so we can Fight Another Day on the BattleField! And finally I'd just like to thank all of you Liberal, no-common sense, kum-bye-yah morons who give Terrorists rights and would rather swerve in their car and kill a few people to save the enddangered field mice. Who are we folks. Ahhh Yes we are the Iraqi and Afgan Islamic Folks that you all just took in to your Country. Thank You Again America!

Anonymous said...

I used to get food stamps when I hurt myself on the job and couldn't work for a time being. I am not overweight or uneducated. I have a college degree. No one can predict an injury and I had small children to feed. No one in my family is overweight.

I used to go to the grocery store and was humiliated to use food stamps because I had always been able to take care of myself and my kids. I never took them with me. I grocery shopped at the 24 hour store at 9pm when they were in bed and I knew no one would be at the store. I always followed the 80/20 ratio where 80% of your food bill should be items 'from scratch' and the other 20% processed (like pasta sauce, dressings, seasonings, etc). I always bought store brand generic, watered down my juice for the kids, and hardly ever bought "treats"... a "treat" to my kids was banana pudding, which I made from scratch. I refused to have my kids go with me to the store because I couldn't stomach telling them they couldn't get something we used to get before food stamps and it made me very sad. When i was on food stamps, I'd buy an emergency package of hot pockets or a single freezer pizza or something if we were in a pinch, but I generally always made my kids lunches of english muffin pizzas i made with spaghetti sauce and whatever cheese I had. Maybe it's because my parents were hardworking people and pushed me to earn a wage since i was 14 years old (i'm 33 now). Maybe it was because no one in my family had ever needed assistance before, so I wasn't used to this abuse the system lifestyle, it was new and scary and embarassing for me. I'm glad to say that I've been back to work for a year now and though it is convenient to get food stamps, I prefer paying with my own cash and telling my kids i'm not a bank and they need to save their allowance for a treat, not 'mommy needs to stretch out the food stamo budget'. Try not to judge too harshly. In my situation, I was technically 'taking back' the tax dollars I had been paying in over the years for the time i needed it.