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6 The Hampton Roads Messenger


Volume 5 Number 11


Corporate America & Obesity: Why Americans Can’t Live on Food Stamps


BY K. I. HOPE America is gaining


weight and the most vulnerable populations are those with low levels of education and income, as well as those with black or Hispanic heritage. The most obese state in the country, Mississippi, also happens to be the poorest. And with the rates of obesity increasing in 16 states last year and declining in none, America’s diet is influencing policy, politics and programs.


Unfortunately, the system is


working against people, instead of for them. An obesity study released this week through a joint effort by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals further evidence of a brewing crisis, not least in the area of food stamps.


According to the United Nation’s


Food and Agriculture Organization monthly Food Price Index for June 2011, world food prices increased by more than 39% June 2010. This comes at a time when more Americans than ever are participating in the Supplemental


healthy food is a significant barrier to Americans on food stamps. “It would be very difficult for a shopper to regularly buy healthy, nutritious food on that budget.”


Fast Food Stamps Even as the rate of obesity is


increasing in unprecedented amounts, junk food companies are lobbying to increase consumers’ ability to purchase fast food.


Yum! Brands, owner of fast food


restaurants KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, is lobbying to make food stamps a form of payment in Kentucky, the sixth most obese state in the country. Only three other states - Arizona, California, and Michigan - currently allow food stamps as legal tender.


Allowing residents of Kentucky,


Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the program for food stamps. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program added 17 million people in the last four years.


What was once viewed as a social


stigma is now an economic necessity for one in seven Americans.


With the influx of food stamp


participants, it’s important to note a recent study by Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research that found food stamp recipients have a higher body mass index than non-recipients.


Research scientist Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study, says the cost of


which is also the fifth worst state for fruit and vegetable consumption, greater access to nutritionally-devoid products would be extremely detrimental to their health.


The main argument for allowing


food stamps at fast food restaurants is that it provides equal access to food. However, the Centers for Disease Control offers grants to states to fight obesity and expand options for low-or-no income persons, which includes community gardens, new or improved grocery options and healthier independent stores like mom-and-pop cornershops. An increase in these options would eliminate the need for anyone to ingest fast food, regardless of income.


In addition, the debate is raising


the issue of how to actually define “food” itself. In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is currently at odds with food manufacturers, who are outraged over his proposal to blacklist sugary drinks and pop from food stamp purchases.


A recent New York Times


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You are cordially invited to attend... City Council meetings...


Norfolk - regular meetings are held on the first and fourth Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. and the second and third Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.


Chesapeake - regular meetings are held on the second, third and fourth Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.


Newport News - regular business meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 7:00 p.m.


Suffolk - regular meetings are held on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.


Hampton - typically take place on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m.


Virginia Beach - meets on the first four Tuesdays of each month. In July the meetings are scheduled on the first two Tuesdays only. Formal session begins at 6 p.m.


Portsmouth - meeting dates are the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.


article, “Soft Drink Industry Fights Proposed Food Stamp Ban,” states that the non-profit Feeding America, an “antihunger” group, opposes Bloomberg’s plan. Feeding America is actually governed by a board of directors composed of executives from companies including Kraft, ConAgra, Mars, Inc., and General Mills - companies whose unhealthy products are composed


August 2011


mainly of the ingredients Bloomberg is determined to eliminate from eligibility for food stamps.


Federal Subsidies Help Unhealthy


Ingredients The flagship products of these


corporations receive billions in federal subsidies to keep costs artificially low and the products on every shelf. Unhealthy food isn’t cheaper because it’s less nutrient-dense; it’s cheaper because the government subsidizes its production -- and that’s something many Americans simply don’t know about.


The Environmental Working Group


reports that the federal government subsidized $261.9 billion dollars between 1995-2010, with the majority of the money going to a select few producers of crops like corn, wheat and soybeans. Other major recipients include the meat and dairy industries. Fruits and vegetables, by comparison, receive 0.37% of subsidies, despite federal nutrition recommendations advocating that one-third of daily food intake be fruits and vegetables.


In 2010, the USDA spent $64.7


billion dollars on food stamps. The same year, the USDA also gave $15 billion dollars in farm subsidies, including $1.7 billion to corn crops, which manufacture the main ingredient in soda -- one of the most unhealthy items on many Americans’ daily menus.


At a time when food prices are


rising rapidly and health is declining, the federal government is giving money to continue producing products that contribute to illness and obesity, while simultaneously giving people the means to buy these products.


It is as if the government is making


the drugs, giving them away, and then wondering why everyone is an addict.


Easy to ignore, the obesity


epidemic is often reduced to ridicule in a congress divided over issues like war and unemployment. But this is a crucial juncture, when the convergence of government programs, spending and corporate lobbying is colliding in a way that will impact everyone in America.


What we eat is harming our bodies


and our budget. There aren’t any people profiting, only corporations.


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