Another day, another scientifically ignorant Republican.
The topic? The SNAP Program, better known as “food stamps.” Republicans have called for massive cuts to this program, despite the fact that, in this time of economic downturn, more and more Americans find themselves in need of public assistance. This time, it is Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, who gave a rambling, boring, ridiculous, and barely coherent speech on the floor of the House in which he addressed the recently defeated “Farm Bill” (which was really a let’s-take-from-the-poor-to-give-more-subsidies-to-rich-mega-farm-owners bill) among other things. One of the “highlights” from his speech was an ignorant quote made about the poor:
“From the amount of obesity in this country, by people we’re told do not have enough to eat, it does seem like we can have a debate about this issue without allegations about wanting to slap down or starve children.”
Gohmert seems to be having a slight issue with the English language here, but the statement seems to claim that poor people are fat, so they shouldn’t complain about not having enough to eat. Right. This is one of those times when I’m going to let science give him the “slap down” he deserves.
According to the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition, in a study entitled “Poverty and obesity: the role of density and energy costs,” poverty and obesity are inextricably linked through food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally acceptable or safe foods.” When a person is uncertain about how they are going to afford healthy, nutritious foods in enough quantity to support the energy needs of their families and themselves, they are more likely to invest in nutritionally vacant foods which will provide sufficient, and often surplus, energy.
For example, the study notes that the energy cost (or the cost of a specific amount of calories) of potato chips is about 20¢ (Note: the study was conducted in 2004 using 2003 prices, so the price will be higher today), whereas the cost of the same amount of energy in fresh carrots is 95¢. The energy cost of a soda is only 30¢ while for orange juice it’s $1.43. If you have a limited budget, what are you going to pick?
We’d all like to say that we’d do our best to pick nutrient-packed foods, but I challenge you to look in your cupboards and see if there aren’t at least a few items on which you could have made a better, albeit more expensive, choice. Now imagine if you are a single parent, struggling to raise a child or children, struggling to lift yourself out of poverty. You might not have the kind of time you would like to dedicate to making super healthy meals for your family out of your limited resources. Even if you did, with the difference in energy costs between healthy and non-healthy foods could leave you in a constant state of hunger.
So, yes, poor people have a higher rate of obesity. It is not a matter of having enough to eat. It’s a matter of only being able to afford the wrong things. Rep. Gohmert, your argument is invalid.
For another great study on energy density versus energy cost, see the study titled “The Rising Cost of Low-Energy Density Foods” published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.