Americans, especially African-Americans, are in the midst of our own “Hunger Games.” Since the recession, more and more Americans have found themselves having to rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to bridge the food gap and put meals on tables across America, who without it, would starve.
Records show that 47 percent of everyone receiving food stamp benefits are children under the age of 18. Another 6 percent of those receiving them are seniors over the age of 60. And it doesn't stop there, 41 percent of those who are receiving food stamps actually do work. They are considered part of the "working poor" people of America.
Researchers from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that each year, $2 billion of vouchers issued by the SNAP are spent on sodas in grocery stores across the country.
According to Medical Express, by compiling data from retail grocery stories and family histories of receiving food stamps in the past, researchers found that 58 percent of all refreshment beverages purchased by SNAP participants were for sugar-sweetened beverages such as regular soda, fruit drinks and sports drinks. They also discovered that SNAP benefits paid for 72 percent of these purchases.
It’s believed that these numbers could possibly be higher, given that researchers did not include data from Wal-Mart, a company that, in 2010, brought in about $25 billion.
And while Tatiana Andreyeva, Rudd's director of economic initiative, agrees that SNAP’s role is an important one, the role that soda plays in the obesity epidemic cannot be ignored. In a Yale press release, she stated:
“The annual use of billions of dollars in SNAP benefits to purchase products at the core of public health concerns about obesity and chronic illnesses is misaligned with the goal of helping economically vulnerable families live active, healthy lives." Andreyeva added, "Anti-hunger and public health advocates should work together to ensure that all government food assistance programs are implemented in a way that is consistent with helping Americans meet government dietary recommendations."
In a sense, I understand where Andreyeva is coming from.
There is a strong link between poverty, obesity and poor health, especially when looking at people of color. And there is a mound of science saying that soda consumption plays a part in all that. Past studies have found that sugary drinks, such as colas (diet included), sweet teas, fruit juices and energy drinks increase our risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease.
But the entire obesity epidemic cannot be solely blamed on super-sized drinks. Sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits and choices, lack of affordable and accessible healthy foods and access issues to quality health care are a huge part of the problem as well. Also, Pop Inc. is a $72 billion industry that couldn’t possibly be funded solely on food stamps. Regardless of socioeconomic status, too many Americans are drinking way too much soda, are sick, obese and are not meeting their government dietary recommendations.
And while these researchers may have had good intentions, this indictment of the poor doesn’t sit well with me. Insinuating that perhaps the government should ban SNAP recipients from buying soda with aid seems less about caring about their health and more about being mad that these people have the audacity to use government money — tax payer money — to buy Pepsi instead of vegetables.
We all know that is exactly how the Right will spin this: That people on food stamps or any other government program are shiftless and irresponsible freeloaders. Our own Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was recently caught on tape telling a group of backers that 47 percent of Americans feel entitled to government aid for food instead of taking initiative to live independently.
It’s the welfare queen scenario all over again.
In the end, we do need to continue to keep bridging the hunger gap in this country — just as we need to address soda consumption in this country as a means to winning the war on obesity. But shaming a class with the least amount of power in this country for consuming something that everyone else drinks isn’t the answer.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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