The next few weeks will see plenty of news stories about the potentially devastating effects of President Trump’s proposed budget, especially the proposed 29 percent cut to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what used to be known as food stamps.
A program that’s been around since the 1960s, SNAP has been studied extensively and consistently been shown to be effective in lifting people out of poverty and reducing the number of people who are food insecure. These should be reason enough to support it, but there is another just as important, though perhaps less well-known reason to support this valuable program.
Ensuring access to quality nutrition before birth and in the earliest years of life reduces rates of chronic disease in adults. Here’s how it works: when a woman is pregnant, she provides nutrients to her developing baby not only from the food she is eating, but also from the nutritional stores she built up during and after adolescence. The better the nutrition a developing infant and toddler receives, the better the body it can build and the less likely it is to develop expensive and debilitating health conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease as an adult. This means that adolescents, infants, toddlers and women of childbearing age get long-term benefits from consuming healthy, whole foods.
The obvious question is whether SNAP participants receive nutrition that can improve their long-term health. About 44 million Americans received SNAP benefits in 2016, a little more than 700,000 of these were Oregonians – that’s almost 20 percent of the state’s population. In Oregon, more than half of SNAP participants live in families with children.
A 2016 study published in the American Economic Review found that access to SNAP benefits in utero and in early childhood can lead to significant improvements in adult health, specifically lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. The same study found investing in SNAP later in childhood (after age five) had less impact on adult health.
Birthweight is often used as a measure of how a baby grew before birth. Low birthweight babies, those born in the five to six pound range, are more likely to develop diabetes and die of heart disease than those born in the eight to nine pound range. A 2011 study in The Review of Economics and Statistics by the same authors found that women who had access to SNAP while pregnant were less likely to give birth to low birthweight babies, this was most evident among African American women and women living in high poverty areas, two groups that traditionally have the lowest birthweight babies.
The U.S. is already facing increasingly high levels of obesity and diabetes. As diabetics age, the majority develop heart disease. According to the Oregon Health Authority, the state is currently expecting more than a million Oregonians to be living with heart disease by 2030, that’s a four-fold increase in just 20 years. Heart disease is the most expensive chronic condition to treat. Our current health system is not equipped to deal with that load of patients; nor are our communities prepared for what that will do to our workforce or our local economy.
Making sure Americans don’t go hungry should not be a political issue. We simply need the political will to see the long-term advantages of ensuring we all have access to healthy foods.
For more information: check out this policy brief from the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research that includes information from both of the mentioned studies.
Put a face on it
Ask friends, family and neighbors whether they have ever received food stamp benefits. It's estimated that half the U.S. population will receive benefits at one point during their lifetime. Putting a face to the story will help eliminate stigma and misconceptions about SNAP benefits.
Let your voice be heard
Call your legislators to let them know why you oppose drastic cuts to the SNAP program. You can find out who your congressional representatives are and how to contact them here. To find out who your senators are and how to contact them, check here.
Join with like-minded community members
Find local groups that are actively working to oppose the proposed budget cuts. A good place to start is your local food bank or county public health office. Ask what you can do to support their efforts. The more voices are combined, the louder the message will be heard in Washington, D.C.