Trump administration’s proposed cutbacks to food stamps could worsen America’s obesity epidemic

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The Trump Administration should scrap its proposed changes to food stamp eligibility if it wants to fight the country’s obesity epidemic and encourage families to buy fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

That’s according to new policy recommendations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization focusing on public health and the country’s obesity problem.

The proposed changes could deepen food insecurity for around 3 million of the 36 million people who now qualify for food stamps, the organization said. And that lack of steady financial or physical access to healthy food is a problem for low-income Americans who are grappling with obesity.

The food stamp program “should have sufficient resources to encourage participants to purchase more fruits and vegetables and help them make healthier purchases,” the foundation said Thursday.

Food insecurity is associated with obesity, researchers have previously shown. One reason is that high-calorie, high-sugar processed food can be cheaper and have a longer shelf life than fruits, vegetables and meat.

On Thursday, the foundation also released new statistics showing 4.8 million children between the ages of 10 and 17 were obese in the 2017-2018 time frame. That’s an obesity rate of 15.3% for that age group, though rates are higher for black youth (22.2%) and Hispanic youth (19%).

The obesity rate for the demographic is down from 16.1% in 2016, the foundation said. But the decline wasn’t statistically significant, it said. More than 93 million adults were obese in 2015-2016, which is a 39.8% rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What the Trump administration wants to do

The Trump administration is mulling changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. Among other proposals, government officials want to limit the automatic eligibility for families that already receive other federal public assistance.

The administration says it’s a loophole that allows benefits for families who would otherwise make too much money to be eligible for food stamps. The federal SNAP income limit is 130% above the poverty line; right now that’s $33,475 for a family of four.

Apart from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Trump administration’s SNAP proposal has other critics who’ve called it “mean-spirited.”

A comment period on the proposal ended last month.

Dr. Richard Besser, the foundation’s president and CEO, urged the administration to rescind the proposal.

Apart from avoiding added food insecurity, the current rules had financial upsides. If families can still receive food stamps under the larger eligibility rules, he said they can build up savings and earnings to get ahead and still afford groceries.

“Any reforms to SNAP should reflect and advance the program’s primary goal of reducing food insecurity, but this proposal would exacerbate it,” he said.

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