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Food stamps are making the poor unhealthy by financing a diet of junk food that generates huge profits for giant corporations. That’s the conclusion of a disturbing new series by Washington Post journalist Eli Saslow.
One real cause of the epidemic of obesity and related problems among the nation’s poor is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program popularly known as “food stamps,” Saslow discovered. Particularly disturbing is Saslow’s description of Blanca Salas of McAllen, Texas, and her children.
“The cheap foods she could afford on the standard government allotment of $1.50 a meal also tended to be among the least nutritious – heavy in preservatives, fats and refined sugar,” Saslow wrote.
Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and Mars Inc. spent $10 million in the last few years lobbying Congress to keep junk foods available to food stamp recipients.
Here’s what a decade of food stamps and eating junk food did to the Salas family:
- Nine-year-old Antonio Salas is overweight and already taking prescription medications for high cholesterol.
- 40-year-old Blanca Salas has Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. She’s too sick to work and in danger of having a stroke. Salas now receives disability payments because of her health conditions.
- Salas’s 13-year-old daughter Clarissa is already developing symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.
- The foods in the Salas family pantry included popsicles, frozen pizzas, Cool Whip, corn dogs, Nesquik, Cheetos and instant soup.
The Salas family’s experiences seem to be typical of those on food stamps.
Facts about food stamps and obesity
Saslow uncovered several facts about food stamps and obesity that Americans should be aware of. Some of her revelations include:
- One in seven people in the United States — or 47 million Americans — now receive food stamps.
- The amount spent on food stamps in the United States has increased from $20 billion since 2001 to $78 billion.
- Around $2 billion in food stamp money is spent on junk food each year.
- Customers can use food stamp cards to buy junk food at drive-thru convenience stores in South Texas. The food sold at many of the stores is fried food.
- There are no federal regulations preventing the use of food stamps to purchase junk food. A person could, for instance, buy only potato chips for an entire month.
- Some of the items you can buy with foods stamps in South Texas include hot Cheetos covered with cheese and a Mexican snow cone covered with gummy bears and chili powder.
- Food stamps can be used to purchase soda pop, candy and Red Bull energy drinks.
- 65 percent of the children from the lowest income families — those most likely to get food stamps — are obese.
- In Hidalgo County, Texas, one of the nation’s poorest areas, 40 percent of the population is on food stamps and 38.5 percent of the population is obese. Children in the area will have a shorter project lifespan than their parents because of the lousy food.
Local businesses profit from food stamps as well. Businesses in the town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island make $2 million a month from food stamps. Food stamps are now a basis of Woonsocket’s economy. One third of the town’s population now receives food stamps. Local grocery store owner Miguel Pichardo calls the first of the month “Uncle Sam Day” because that’s when he makes one third of his income.
Lobbyists support food stamps for energy drinks
When Texas state representative Terry Canales introduced a bill banning the use of food stamps to pay for energy drinks, he found himself opposed by lobbyists from the Texas Beverage Association which represents soft drink makers. Canales introduced the bill after seeing long lines at a diabetes clinic in his home town of Edinburg, Texas.
“We’re slowly killing ourselves,” Canales said of the standard diet in his hometown. Canales noted that energy drinks might cause up to 20,000 emergency room visits a year.
The Post says big government is making the poor sick with bad food — and big business is profiting from it.