"If we cut back on benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or otherwise reduce its availability to people, that would increase the amount of stress that low-income families would face, which would then subsequently lead to increases in obesity," he said.
According to Gundersen, programs such as SNAP play a vital role in the social safety net as well as in efforts to end obesity.
"I really cannot stress how great of a program SNAP is," he said. "It's a fantastic program, and I think it can do a lot to help in our fight against obesity as it's currently constructed."
But there have been calls to restrict what SNAP recipients can purchase. For example, New York City recently proposed prohibiting children from purchasing sports drinks with their SNAP benefits. Gundersen views this development as setting a "dangerous precedent."
"Ultimately, placing restrictions on what people can buy only discourage them from participating in the program because it stigmatizes the benefits," he said. "The best way to reduce obesity isn't to introduce more restrictions, but to expand SNAP as it's currently structured."
Since SNAP allows families to purchase more healthy foods that they would otherwise be able to, any further restrictions or cutbacks to the program would have a two-fold effect, Gundersen says.
"Reducing access to SNAP would increase stress, which leads to increases in obesity, but it also means that families wouldn't be able to afford healthy foods and would subsequently have to purchase less healthy foods," he said. "When thinking about these sort of policy considerations, we have to think about who bears the brunt of these cutbacks, because not only could they lead to more obesity, but also to more inequality."
Gundersen says that while many families who are facing tough times may not be eligible for SNAP, which is only available to those below 130
|Contact: Phil Ciciora|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign