Food stamps make recipients fatter and less healthy, according to studies

Food stamps make recipients fatter and less healthy, according to studies
Ramen. (Image: Wikipedia; By STRONGlk7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)

It’s not clear why, but receiving food stamps appears to make recipients less healthy and more obese. If there are two households with the same income, and one gets food stamps, while the other doesn’t, the one that gets food stamps is, on average, fatter, less healthy, and more likely to end up with diseases, than the one that doesn’t get food stamps.

As economist Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute notes, the food stamp program, known officially as the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” doesn’t improve the diets of the average person who receives food stamps, even though food stamps comprise the lion’s share of the Agriculture Department’s budget, at $127 billion:

The N in SNAP is for nutrition, but studies have found the opposite. One USDA study found that “lower nutritional quality of household food acquisitions was associated with SNAP participation status.” A recent review by Jerold Mande and Grace Flaherty found, “Children participating in SNAP were more likely to have elevated disease risk and consume more sugar‐​sweetened beverages (SSBs), more high‐​fat dairy, and more processed meats than income‐​eligible nonparticipants.” The USDA has found that SNAP recipients are more obese than similar‐​income nonrecipients.

Food stamps tend to more than cover the cost of food for people who are thrifty and use coupons, which can result in recipients reselling surplus food. Government officials create a contrary impression through misleading PR campaigns. In the bogus “Food Stamp Challenge,” lawmakers and welfare bureaucrats pretend that it’s hard to eat on a Food Stamps budget, in order to justify more welfare spending. But I spent less on food than many food stamp recipients for years. As a young lawyer, I consistently spent less than $5 a day on food — generally less than a dollar per meal — while consuming nutritious fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins. In 2007, The Washington Post ran a story in its health section about how prosperous people, such as a chef and a natural foods store owner, were able to live quite well on a food stamps budget. For example, Rick Hindle, executive chef for the Skadden, Arps law firm, showed “that you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare healthful food for $1 or less per meal.” You can easily spend less on food than the poorest food stamp recipients and still enjoy a healthy, low-fat diet rich in vitamins and fiber. That’s what a Quaker vegetarian found when he decided to limit his weekly spending on food to a food stamp budget, even though he ate only organic food (which costs more).

Even the mostly liberal readers of the Daily Dish blog admitted a decade ago that food stamps covered far more than the amount needed to get enough nutritious food to eat. As one noted, he spent more money on food while on food stamps than ever he did before going on food stamps:

As a family of four (me, wife, two kids) we got around $550 for food per month (~$140/person per month). This was far more than we were spending before we ended up on food stamps and more than we budget for food now that I am employed again. We bought milk, not soda, and meat, not canned food, and we had enough to build up some food storage as well. The idea that there just isn’t enough money from food stamps and people are forced into making poor food choices is flat wrong in my experience.

Not all food stamp recipients are poor. A millionaire in Michigan collected food stamps after winning the lottery. “Amanda Clayton, a 24-year-old from Lincoln Park, Michigan . . . is getting away with it. Clayton won $1 million from the Michigan State Lottery this fall, but she is still collecting and using $200 a month in food assistance from the taxpayers with her Michigan Bridge Card. ‘I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn’t, I thought maybe it was okay because I’m not working,’ the lottery winner who just purchased a new house and car told Local 4 in Detroit. The station even filmed her shamelessly purchasing goods. When Local 4 asked if she felt she had a right to the money, Clayton responded, ‘I mean I kinda do.’” “‘I have bills to pay,” she said. “I have two houses.”

As James Bovard noted in 2011 in The Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration helped such millionaires collect food stamps. As he pointed out, the Obama administration encouraged states to abolish asset tests for food stamps, leaving even unemployed millionaires able to qualify: “Millionaires are now legally entitled to collect food stamps as long as they have little or no monthly income. Thirty-five states have abolished asset tests for most food-stamp recipients. These and similar ‘paperwork reduction’ reforms advocated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are turning the food-stamp program into a magnet for abuses and absurdities.”

Food stamps have gotten more generous since then, such as during the coronavirus pandemic, when the amount of food stamps people could receive was increased by 15% as part of the coronavirus stimulus package. Biden’s 2021 stimulus package extended that increase, even after the economy rebounded in late 2020.

Americans of all backgrounds can collect food stamps, unlike many other giveaways for special interests contained in Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. Federal judges struck down racial preferences in Biden’s stimulus package in multiple court rulings, but only after the Biden administration had already handed out billions of dollars based on race.

Biden’s stimulus spending worsened inflation, according to Federal Reserve Bank economists. Biden’s big spending spawned inflation, according to economists like Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, and Obama advisor Steven Rattner. As Rattner noted in the New York Times, Biden spent “an unprecedented amount” of taxpayer money, which resulted in “too much money chasing too few goods.”

Due to rising federal government spending, “skyrocketing debt, higher borrowing costs, and a hobbled economy are predicted in [a 2021] Congressional Budget Office report,” notes Reason Magazine. The Congressional Budget Office noted that due to recent big government spending, America’s national debt will be larger than its economy for the entire next decade, even if the economy manages to grow at a decent rate. That debt will lead to higher interest payments on the national debt, which will drive up the budget deficit and shrink economic growth by crowding out productive private investment.

The government did not need to spend most of the money it spent in the pandemic for the economy to recover.  A century ago, America went through a great plague, far worse than the coronavirus. The great influenza pandemic killed a higher fraction of Americans than COVID-19. It killed many young people in the prime of life, weakening our economy. A sharp depression followed in 1920-21. The federal government responded not by sending relief checks to citizens, but by cutting its own spending instead.

The result was a speedy economic recovery — an economic boom known as the “Roaring Twenties.” America had never been so prosperous before, as the pain and suffering of the influenza epidemic was quickly forgotten in an era of rapid economic growth.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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