April 7 2015

There’s been an argument brewing about whether consumers using SNAP benefits – also known as food stamps – should be able to purchase sugary drinks and junk food through that program. It’s true that low-income communities are hardest hit by the double whammy of obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s also true that the reasons for that include the consumption of sugary junk drinks and junk food.

Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. As it turns out, healthy food isn’t always readily accessible in low-income neighborhoods which tend to lack grocery stores but have an abundance of liquor/deli marts. Also known as bodegas, these stores mostly stock junk food, soda, liquor and cigarettes, not exactly the kind of selections from which a family can create a healthy meal. If SNAP were to prohibit the purchase of junk food, it could leave these families struggling to seek out items they can purchase from these bodegas.

That makes me wonder if SNAP did ban the sale of junk drinks and junk food, wouldn’t that serve as an incentive to these store owners to stock healthy selections that can be purchased with food stamps? Any good businessman knows that stores stock what the market dictates. If the market says SNAP does not allow the purchase of items that contribute to the dual epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes then those stores serving low-income communities would be forced to stock healthy items or go out of business.

Though this makes sense, it is still being debated and was recently lifted up in a New York Times op-ed.  The Endowment’s Senior Vice President Daniel Zingale weighed in on the argument in this letter to the editor.

One thing is for certain, something needs to change soon as the health of low-income communities across the nation is suffering.

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