The Medicine Works but the Dose is too Low
Although federal funding for the Food Stamp Program currently totals $28 billion, the average person receives only $92.60 per month—barely $1 per meal.v This means that even families who receive food stamps often simply cannot afford to eat right. Food stamp benefit amounts are based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP),vi which does not adhere to the Surgeon General’s most recent nutrition recommenda- tions and no longer reflects the real cost of food in some areas.vii A recent sampling of grocery stores in Boston, MA, revealed that, on average, the monthly cost of the TFP is $27 more than the maximum monthly food stamp benefit allowance. Most recipients, however, do not receive the maximum benefit, so the gap is often even wider. A low-cost healthier diet based on the most recent nutrition guidelines exceeded maximum monthly food stamp benefit levels by $148—an annual differential of $1,776—a budgetary stretch entirely unrealistic for most families poor enough to receive nutrition assistance.viii Until benefit levels are adjusted to match the cost of a healthy diet, in line with the newest scientific recommendations, the Food Stamp Program’s great potential to relieve hunger and promote a healthier America cannot be fully realized.
C-SNAP’s work focuses on urban children, but recent research has shown that rural children are at high risk for food insecurity as well. Paradoxically, in America’s countryside, where much of our food is grown, rural Americans disproportionately rely on the Food Stamp Program to feed their families. In 2001, the last year for which data have been calculated, only 22% of the United States’ total population, but a full 31% of food stamp recipients, lived in rural areas. And overall, whereas only 4.8% of urban residents received food stamps, 7.5% of rural residents did.xii Children account for a large percentage of this group: while children comprise only one-fourth of the rural population, they account for nearly half (43%) of all rural residents receiving food stamps.xiii
C-SNAP’s research reveals that food insecurity poses a serious threat to the health of many new Americans and, in particular, to citizen children of immigrant parents. As US citizens, these children are potentially eligible for, but frequently do not receive, assistance from the Food Stamp Program.xiv Indeed, young children of immigrants are less than half as likely to receive food stamp benefits as young children of citizen parents, despite higher poverty rates among immigrant families.xv
Annual Gap Between Maximum Monthly Food Stamp Benefit and Cost of Surgeon General’s Low-cost, Healthier Diet for a Family of Four
More than 11.5% (32.5 million) of the total US population is foreign-born. As reflected in recent census data, immigrant communities across the country are experiencing tremen- dous growth.xvi But even while immigrants work hard to harvest, prepare, and serve America’s food, the terrible irony is that many struggle with chronic hunger within their own families, with food insecurity jeopardizing their
children’s health and development.
Maximum FS Benefit Cost of a Healthy Diet
Do Food Stamps Cause Childhood Obesity?
The Food Stamp Program could help protect these children from unnecessary risk. C-SNAP has found that citizen children of immigrant parents who receive food stamps are 32% less likely to be in poor health than if their families did not receive food stamps. In other words, food stamps can make a profound difference in a child’s health, but too many eligible American children in immigrant families are not getting the nutrition assistance they so desperately need.
No studies have shown a causal link between food stamps and childhood obesity.ix Factors thought to contribute to obesity include media advertising of sweetened and high-fat foods aimed at young children, lack of recess and physical education classes in schools, too few safe opportunities for exercise in many neighborhoods, and—paradoxically—food insecurity.x The possible pathways between food insecurity and obesity are complex. To prevent family members from experiencing hunger, parents in food inse- cure households may purchase a limited variety of cheap, energy dense foods high in fat and added sweeteners, but low in nutritional quality. At the same time, food insecure households reduce their consumption of healthier, but relatively more expensive, foods—such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, and vegetable protein.xi A successful public-health approach to obesity prevention must include an effective Food Stamp Program with benefit levels that permit low-income families to purchase healthier foods and raise healthier children.