When food stamps were created in the 1960s to help fight hunger, the goal was to get calories to people who were starving. But today’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (the new name for food stamps) is associated with high levels of obesity among those facing “food insecurity” (the new name for hunger).
Simple economics is partly to blame for this paradox, reports Melanie Mason in The Nation (March 28, 2011). “Healthy choices like fruits and vegetables are as much as several thousand times more expensive per calorie” than foods containing fats, oils, sugars, and refined grains, she writes.
One solution to the problem is dubbed the “double voucher,” which is already used by 160 farmers markets in 20 states. The program, reports Mason, matches a certain amount of money from SNAP benefits, “essentially doubling the customer’s purchasing power” for buying fresh food.
Later this year, a federal pilot program in Massachusetts will offer an incentive for healthy eating by adding 30 cents to select participants’ SNAP benefits for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables. While these programs reach a tiny fraction of the more than 43 million Americans who currently receive food assistance, they could lead the way to a more robust, and slimmer, nation.