Don’t blame food stamps for obesity in America

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Source:  The Conversation/Tasia Smith

Politicians and scholars sometimes cast obesity as a problem that largely afflicts the poor. But as most obese adults aren’t poor and most low-income adults aren’t obese, this is a misconception.

As a researcher who looks into these demographics, I find the intersection of obesity and income among Americans to be much more complex than commonly held myths suggest.

Left unaddressed, misunderstandings about the links between poverty and obesity can end up justifying anti-poverty budget cuts. In light of the Trump administration’s efforts to slash spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, widely known as food stamps, I would like to clarify the connections between obesity, income and SNAP.

Most people with obesity aren’t low-income

The more than 33 percent of U.S. adults who have a body mass index (BMI) – weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters – of 30 or higher meet the common definition of obesity. For instance, someone who is 5’9″ and weighs at least 203 pounds would be obese.

Only 20 percent of these adults with obesity are considered poor enough to qualify for SNAP benefits, such as belonging to a family of four living at 130 percent of the poverty line on an annual income of about US$31,600.

In fact, 41 percent of adults with obesity belong to households earning at least 350 percent of the poverty line – more than $86,100 a year.

What’s at stake?

The Trump administration wants to cut 25 percent of SNAP’s budgetover the next decade. There’s a lot at stake with this proposed spending cut, which would total $193 billion and could hurt some of the most vulnerable Americans who have a wide array of BMIs.

Nearly 42 percent of SNAP households eke by on incomes at or below half the poverty line. For a family of four, that amounts to $12,300 or less. What’s more, almost two-thirds of the Americans benefiting from SNAP are children, elderly or people with disabilities.

Stereotyping low-income Americans and criticizing safety net programs won’t do anything about the national obesity epidemic. Instead, we need to encourage the government to do more to improve American health across the board.

 

Evergreen Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of Oregon

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