Incentives Incentives! Why Being on Food Stamps Up Your Obesity Risk

By Melissa Lafsky | August 12, 2009 11:53 am

fatWe know that obesity levels aren’t going anywhere near down. We also know that the biggest increase is among the lower-income segment of the population. Now we have data that proves a logical assumption from these two facts: Being on food stamps makes you more likely to be obese.

New research in the current issue of Economics and Human Biology (hat tip: Sci Am) found that people who receive food stamps have, on average, a BMI of more than 1 point higher than people not participating in the food stamp program. “Every way we looked at the data, it was clear that the use of food stamps was associated with weight gain,” said Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study.

Why is this? Because food stamps offer a very small amount of credit—$81 a month for the average recipient in 2002—with which to purchase food. As such, people relying on the stamps have a strong incentive to buy cheap foods that are filling—in other words, the exact type of foods contributing to the obesity epidemic.

As we’ve said before, there are two camps when it comes to fighting obesity: punishing or restricting bad behavior (like oh, say, banning new fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods) and rewarding good behavior. We’ve come out in favor of the second option before, and this time is no exception. Rather than penalize food stamp recipients who buy unhealthy foods, we should offer incentives and rewards for purchasing produce, whole grains, and other ingredients that don’t pack on the pounds.

Luckily, we’re not the only ones who think this is a good idea.

Related Content:
Reality Base: Will Obesity Regulation Turn the U.S. Into a Police State?
Reality Base: Carrots Might Work Better Than Sticks (Plus They’re Low in Calories)
Reality Base: Who’s the Fattest of Them All? Obesity Rates Rise in 37 States

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food, Nutrition, & More Food

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar