People should be allowed to eat junk food and drink super-sized soft drinks if they want to. But why should public tax dollars be used to subsidize such unhealthy behavior?
Thats a question posed recently by Catherine Templeton, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. She thinks the state should limit the items that can be purchased wiith food stamps to a list of healthy foods that doesnt include sugary treats.
Templeton is treading a bit outside of the confines of her agency. Food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP is funded by federal dollars. And it is administered in the state by the Department of Social Services, not DHEC.
Nonetheless, Templeton raises an interesting point. DHEC does administer Women, Infants and Children or WIC the federally funded program that helps pregnant women and mothers buy healthy food. Under WIC, beneficiaries are limited to buying itesm such as milk, grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The only limitations placed on SNAP benefits is that they cant be used to buy alcohol or tobacco. They can be used for any other consumable goods.
Templeton doesnt support bans on giant servings of soft drinks, such as the one implemented recently in New York City. But she does argue that public money shouldnt be used to buy unhealthy items, and she suggests that food stamp recipients be limited to the same list of foods as WIC recipients.
Its not just a matter of limiting use of tax dollars. At least 30 percent of South Carolina adults are considered obese, according to a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. South Carolina is tied with Indiana for the seventh-highest obesity rate in the nation.
The SNAP program serves about 875,000 South Carolinians, a figure that usually fluctuates with the state unemployment rate. While limiting the list of food choices that could be purchased with food stamps wouldnt entirely eliminate obesity in that group, it might help alleviate it or at least prompt thousands of residents to make healthier food choices.
Templeton is aware her proposal is no panacea. And it might not even be feasible.
Because SNAP is a federal program, the state would need a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to limit the list of food choices. New York City sought a waiver that would have allowed it to ban using food stamps to buy sugary sodas, but the feds refused.
Still, the idea has merit. In fact, it ought to be adopted nationwide.
Its no cure-all, but it might be one tool to use in fighting the obesity epidemic.