Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
more potentially competing objectives . . . ” and that “if problems of malnutrition are to
be reduced, an alternative solution appears to be necessary” (67).
This early sentiment has been echoed time and again in years since. Again, to illus-
trate, a recent review by Townsend (2006) argues that there is a need for a “redesign
of the existing Food Stamp Program to a health and nutrition intervention” (35). In
large measure, this call is not based only on the potential inefficiency of the program
in meeting nutritional objectives, but also on the potential that there are deleterious
consequences of participation. In particular, the concern in recent years is that food
stamps contribute to obesity. This possibility revolves around two contested ques-
tions: first, whether the marginal propensity to consume food purchased with food
stamps is any different than it would be from cash or an income transfer. Among the
most comprehensive reviews of the subject, studies by Fraker (1990) and Levedahl
(1991) suggest that food stamps will increase food consumption more than an equiv-
alent value of cash. Although these results still remain the subject of considerable
debate, and, at least initially, a larger marginal propensity was considered evidence
that food-related transfers are more efficient than cash transfers in meeting nutri-
tional objectives. With the rise in obesity, however, the potential that food stamps will
contribute to overconsumption, especially of foods that are high in calories and fat,
has been given new urgency. Since there have not been any randomized control trials
or even opportunities for quasi-experimental designs to address this question, there is
certainly still some debate and a paucity of rigorous studies. Nonetheless, recent stud-
ies tell a somewhat consistent picture. Gibson (2003), for example, finds a correlation
between receipt of food stamps and obesity among low-income women. This finding
is also reported by Meyerhoefer and Pylypchuk (2008), who, using more sophisticated
econometric techniques to try to get at the issue of causality, find that the use of food
stamps contributes to obesity among low-income women but not men. The review
by Ver Ploeg and Ralston (2008) suggests that although there is little evidence that
most demographic groups in households receiving food stamps witness an increase
in body mass index as a result of program participation, nonelderly women are the
exception. They comprise 28% of the Food Stamp Program caseload. Other less direct
evidence suggests that food stamps may worsen the obesity epidemic. For example,
Wilde, McNamara, and Ranney (1999) find that households receiving food stamps
consume significantly more sugar and fat than a comparison group of nonrecipients
who nonetheless meet the eligibility criteria. Townsend et al. (2001) find that there
may be a form of binge or excessive consumption at the beginning of the food stamp
cycle that contributes to obesity.
The consensus is that a major redesign would be required to transform the Food
Stamp Program from a food intervention, where the interests of the agricultural and
food processing industry are given primary emphasis, to a health and nutrition pro-
gram where concerns over improving diet quality and even reducing the number of
calories consumed is considered paramount (Townsend 2006). Indeed, this is not a
new challenge, but rather one that dates back to the program's inception during the
period of the 1930s.
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