H.R. 3073, the Healthy Food Choices Act, is a GOP-proposed bill Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) presented to the House on Tuesday. The bill aims to put limitations on food stamps by requiring them to be used to purchase only healthy foods through the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While the intentions behind the legislation are noble, this regulation might not fix the underlying reason why so many food stamps users purchase junk food: What if junk food is all they have access to?
47.8 million Americans use food stamps to help put meals on the table. Despite a slowly decreasing unemployment rate, SNAP participation continues to rise. This highlights the increasing national poverty level and indicates the pervasive societal problem of food insecurity.
Food insecurity is when a household is unable to meet the nutritional needs of its members due to lack of money or resources. It is an alarming and ever-present problem in America. During 2012, over 1 in 7 households experienced food insecurity.
If H.R. 3073 passes, food purchased through SNAP would have to meet the standards of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which include products for these three populations such as breakfast cereals, milk, and vegetables. A 2012 study revealed that SNAP allowed $2 billion of junk food to be purchased every year, according to The Hill. More than half of this was allocated towards sugary drinks.
"Food deserts," places where Americans in low-income rural areas must travel at least 10 miles to the nearest supermarket or a mile or more in urban settings, are a growing problem throughout the U.S. About 29 million Americans are living in urban and rural food deserts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In these places, availability of fresh foods is scarce, as is good health.
There is a strong correlation between poverty and obesity levels in America. Populations living below the poverty line are have the highest obesity rates. The Healthy Food Choices Act assumes that food stamp users buy junk food by choice. By limiting the number of choices to food stamp-dependent families, the bill stands to severely increase their food insecurity.
Instead of making food even more scarce to those most in need, the government should look for ways to make healthier options more available to them.