Childhood Obesity = Big Bucks, Part 5

grocery shopping

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at a detailed and comprehensive article by Stan Cox, about how the soda industry makes $4 billon every year on the sugar-sweetened beverages bought through the SNAP program (formerly “food stamps”). As usual, some Americans are for, and some are against.

Cox does not make the direct comparison, but has obviously studied up on the War on Drugs. When the DEA prohibits a substance, clever chemists tweak the formula just a bit and start selling a different compound that is not, technically, illegal. When that substance is prohibited, they invent a new one, and so on.

The Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of defining what can or cannot be purchased via SNAP, would have the same problem and face a “bureaucratic nightmare.” Cox says:

Department researchers claim that ‘there are no widely accepted standards to judge the ‘healthfulness’ of individual foods’; that the ‘ingenuity of the food industry to develop new ones (for example, a prohibited candy bar adapted into a chocolate ‘granola bar’)’ would always keep junk food a step ahead of any attempted regulation; and that ‘responsibility for enforcing compliance would rest in the hands of employees at check-out counters in 160,000 stores across the nation,’ something considered unworkable.

Here’s another thing. Even though methamphetamine is illegal, people who want it manage to find it, and the same goes for energy drinks. Most low-income families and individuals who are signed up for food assistance are perfectly capable of scraping together enough loose change to buy soda pop without pulling out their SNAP cards.

In fact, studies have been done to prove this, and to illustrate the futility of trying to turn diet soda into contraband. Go shopping with a friend who only buys healthy stuff. Fill your cart with the soda you crave. Swap carts and pay for the friend’s stuff with your SNAP card while your friend buys the soda with cash money, and then settle up in the parking lot. It’s not rocket science.

Cox really did his homework, and came up a fascinating snapshot of reality. While a prosperous household may spend 35% more on healthful purchases than a poor one, the prosperous household will also spend 80% more on snacks, soda, and sweets. In other words, proportionate to their total disposable income, the well-off shoppers spend four times as much on junk food as the economically disadvantaged ones.

Someone actually asked people in the SNAP program what they thought, and revealed the study results in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Cox tells readers:

A proposal to make sugary drinks ineligible for SNAP purchase was supported by 69 percent of all respondents and by 54 percent of SNAP participants themselves. If the soda ban was linked to a financial incentive to buy more fruits and vegetables, a whopping three-quarters of SNAP participants were in favor of it.

Mixed emotions

In general, no large corporation is a friend to the poor. But thanks to the Byzantine complications of the political system, we have a situation where agribusiness vigorously supports SNAP and other government programs that feed the underprivileged. Why? Because, among other reasons, of that $4 billion per year in soda pop profits. The influence of these corporate behemoths, incidentally, may explain why only some states allow SNAP participants to use their benefits at farmers’ markets.

Who else profits from the easy availability of low-nutrition food to SNAP participants? The giant JPMorgan Chase bank, which collects, Cox says, hundreds of millions from government contracts to administer the system. And lawyers, every time a legislative change is proposed — squadrons and platoons of lawyers representing every concerned party. They show up on other occasions, too, like when somebody sues somebody over a TV show.

Tara Costa achieved fame via “The Biggest Loser,” where she lost 155 pounds. An online marketing company hired her to make some personal appearances for their projects, and then claimed that she had gained back about one-third of that weight and wasn’t fit to be seen, and they sued her and she sued them back, and for anyone who cares to know more, Ree Hines tells the whole story at Today.com.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soda Industry Cashes In on Govt. Food Assistance Programs to Tune of $4 Billion a Year,” AlterNet.org, 05/07/13
Source: “’Biggest Loser’ fan favorite Tara Costa sued for allegedly gaining weight,” Today.com, 07/09/13
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