Children on Food Stamps (by Guest Writer Nicole Castro)

Introduction

First, meet Nicole Castro here. Then, read on…

Throughout my life I have always been involved in sports which has made me an advocate of a healthy lifestyle, but a few years ago I tore my ACL and I haven’t been as active since. Once I wasn’t able to do what I loved, I felt like I lost who I was. Along my journey of rediscovering myself I realized my passion for teaching young children. When I was told we would be volunteering somewhere I thought what better way to combine two things I love? I have been volunteering at a local daycare located near my house in Clackamas. The daycare provides childcare for children ages 5 weeks to 6 years old and I have been going around to the older classes starting with the two year olds and informing them about ways they can stay healthy. As a child, there are not many opportunities to control your health; you eat what you are given and run around when allowed. My goal is to inform the kids on ways to stay healthy that they can control, such as washing hands or simply knowing the names of vegetables and fruits. However, during my time volunteering at the daycare I’ve noticed the children who don’t eat healthy are the ones who are on types of food stamps. This was interesting to me because if someone is for the most part getting free groceries, wouldn’t you want to buy the foods you wouldn’t normally be able to purchase, like organic produce that is not inexpensive. After doing some research I noticed that food stamps (EBT) and especially WIC do not allow the purchasing of healthy foods. This had led me to my research question: “Why don’t more stores accept food stamps and why don’t some food stamps buy healthy foods? Approximately, what is the number of obese and unhealthy children who have food stamps?”

Looking at the Research

Cheaney, Janie B.. “Putting Food Stamps on a Diet.” Worldmag.com.

God’s World Publications, 8 Apr 2013. Web. 28 May 2013. <http://www.worldmag.com/2013/04/putting_food_stamps_on_a_diet>.”

Kids on food stamps, don’t eat any healthier.” Foxnews.com.

Reuters, 8 Mar 2013. Web. 28 May 2013. <http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/08/kids-on-food-stamps-dont-eat-any-healthier-study-suggests/>.

“Laws and Regulations.” Fns.usda.gov. N.p.. Web. 29 May 2013.

<http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/lawsandregulations/default.htm&gt;.

I’ve always had a passion for health as well as in working with children, so I decided to put them together and volunteer at a preschool and teach about ways to stay healthy. I never really thought about children knowing the names of their fruits and vegetables until recently and had only thought it was important for them to know numbers, shapes, colors, etc. However, once I realized how many kids don’t know their vegetables/fruits, it became clear to me that there is a big problem. Kids are not eating the proper foods they need to grow and develop and instead consume too many processed foods. A lot of the children who are eating bad foods, are on food stamps. This baffles me. Why don’t food stamps buy healthy foods and why aren’t more stores accepting food stamps?

To me, it doesn’t make any sense as to why people on food stamps can only purchase certain foods. I never knew about this and had always thought food stamps bought anything. It’s like they’re making it harder for people to be healthy. I recently did some research about why this is and found some surprising information. The Food Stamp Program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was developed to provide as much nutrition as possible for low income families. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, today there are more than 47 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits. As stated by a recent article on Foxnews.com, about 19% of kids on SNAP are overweight and another 18% were obese. Both groups of kids ate less than the daily servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and ate more processed meat, sugary drinks and saturated fats. They compared them to kids not on food stamps, and it showed the same thing; children on food stamps tend to eat more bad foods. A report estimated that in just 2011, almost $4 billion SNAP benefits were used to purchase sodas and other sugary drinks (“Kids on food stamps don’t eat any healthier”). Cindy Leung, a researcher from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston states, “The low intake of nutritious food among children participating in SNAP represents a significant missed opportunity for the program to promote health during an important life stage.” It’s obvious that food stamps aren’t really helping families be any healthier when instead, the program should be paying for nutritious foods that are contributors to health.

WIC is another popular form of food stamps, but is for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women as well as infants and children up to five years of age who are considered to be at nutritional risk. According to the Food and Nutrition Service site, WIC’s mission is: “To safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating and referrals to health care.” Although they do allow recipients to buy fruits and vegetables and foods that are considered healthy, WIC does not cover organic foods and only allows families to purchase low-grade brands of bread, milk and grains that tend be more processed. Also, recipients get limited options and have to choose strictly from the list WIC provides. For example, only one year olds get whole milk while women and children can only choose from reduced-fat, low-fat or fat free milk (“Laws and Regulations”). You are also not able to purchase packaged fruits and vegetables that are mixed and can only have packaged items that have one fruit or vegetable. When giving limited options it makes it difficult to purchase foods that are good for you and not processed or high in saturated fats.

Knowing all of this makes me wonder why the government is making it difficult for society to be healthy. A report from Worldmag.com states,“..too costly, too complicated, hard to implement, susceptible to fraud.” While yes, this may be true, but this also shows the government is making false assumptions about society. For example, “The imposition of new food restrictions would require more effort by recipients to understand which foods are allowed and which are not,” implies recipients aren’t smart and suggests the resources would be needed to educate recipients on allowable food options (Cheaney). Why is that bad? Education should not be a pain, it should be viewed as practice. It may be expensive, but the cost of having obese children is much higher.

Food stamps are not helping anybody stay healthy, but instead are making it easier to purchase bad, unhealthy foods. I think it would be amazing if we could somehow create stricter limitations and make it so food stamps don’t buy certain unhealthy foods and instead buy more healthy foods. The cost to educate society on new restrictions may be high, but it would be money well spent.

The Public Writing

Honorable Governor John Kitzhaber,

I have been volunteering at a local childcare center in Clackamas for the past 8 weeks. During my time there I have been teaching the children of simple ways they can control their health, such as washing their hands or knowing the names of vegetables and fruits. However, throughout my time there I have noticed many children eating processed foods and foods high in saturated fats, sugar or salt; things children at such a young age should not be eating. Now, the children who are eating these foods happen to be on food stamps or SNAP which has brought me to writing this letter.

SNAP benefits were developed to provide as much nutrition as possible for low-income families, but as we all know, that’s not what’s happening. Families are not buying healthy foods and certain stores are not allowing the use of food stamps. This is causing children to become overweight and very unhealthy. About 19% of kids on SNAP are overweight and another 18% are obese. This is a huge problem, however, we can fix this by changing the restrictions on food stamps. These restrictions can be allowing the purchase of organic foods and prohibit the purchase of junk foods. If people who are receiving benefits want bad foods, then it should be something they buy with their own money. I urge you to tighten the food restrictions for the sake of the children and their future.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this important matter.

Nicole Castro

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One comment

  1. Raafat Abdel Samad

    Nicole,

    You did an amazing job on your project and was very informative and interesting to read. I learned a lot just by reading your research and you did a great job including evidence that proved what these food stamp organizations actually offer to their consumers.
    I also agree that many of these restrictions are just unfair and I believe that if the government is going to help the people who are in need. then the money should be spent towards a good cause, and this would be allowing them to purchase foods that are whole, organic as well as healthy. Obesity in America is a huge problem and if we continue to feed our children these types of foods, then the problem is only going to get even worse. Great job on your project! I really enjoyed reading about the issues that are currently occurring in our society.

    -Raafat

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