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Pediatricians: Farm Bill Must Protect Children's Health
7 Sep 2018 10:54 AM
Emily Weikert Bryant
As President of the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I write today on behalf of over 900 pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners throughout the state who are concerned that a major health concern facing the children of Indiana is being overlooked: hunger.
Far too many Hoosiers struggle to put enough food on the table, and many are forced to worry about where and how they will get their next meal. Nationwide, over 15 million households report being unable to afford enough food for an active, healthy life year-round. At all ages, hunger has measurable and dangerous consequences.
That’s why I often suggest my patients in need turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Formerly called food stamps, SNAP provides modest benefits – on average only about $1.30 per person per meal – to make adequate, nutritious food more available. It’s one of our most successful anti-poverty programs, helping nearly 672,000 in Indiana, and it’s a solution to some of our community’s most pressing health needs.
Congress is currently considering two different versions of a bill that will affect this important program. The Senate version of the bill protects SNAP, ensuring that it can continue its crucial role as the most important anti-hunger programs we have. In fact, the bill even strengthens the program by testing new tools to help it run more smoothly. Further, it supports states that are testing innovative solutions to help SNAP participants — many of whom work in low-wage jobs with frequent turnover, and thus face periods of joblessness — find and keep a more stable job.
Unfortunately, the House took a very different approach, endangering many in our community and across the country, which is a major reason why it barely received enough votes to pass. The House bill would take away food assistance from 2 million struggling Americans, including children, older workers, and veterans. It would do this by cutting nearly $19 billion in SNAP benefits and diverting much of that money to a risky new scheme of ineffective work programs with harsh penalties. It also imposes complex and burdensome reporting requirements that could take away food assistance from people who are already working or who would otherwise qualify for an exemption.
The House bill makes several other changes that create more barriers to SNAP, such as increasing paperwork and reversing state efforts to improve the program and make it easier to navigate. The patients I see are already struggling to stay on top of everything, including paying the bills, taking care of their kids and their health, or juggling multiple jobs. Navigating unnecessary red tape so they can feed their families is the last thing they need right now. I worry that many of them will fall through the cracks and end up losing their SNAP benefits, which will ripple into the health problems and other challenges they face.
Research shows that people who don’t have access to healthy meals are more likely to suffer poor health outcomes. Adults that lack consistent access to food are at least 40 percent likelier to be diagnosed with chronic conditions like hypertension, hepatitis, or a stroke. Hungry children are more likely to develop cognitive and behavioral problems, anxiety and depression, and chronic health problems like asthma and anemia. Hungry seniors are at higher risk of diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks, gum disease, and asthma.
Being hungry is, very simply, bad for your health - but SNAP can be part of the cure. New studies are starting to show what I see every day: The help SNAP provides may improve the health of those struggling to put enough food on the table. After adjusting for differences in demographic, socioeconomic, and other characteristics, adults who participate in SNAP have fewer sick days, make fewer visits to a doctor, are less likely to forgo needed care because they cannot afford it, and are less likely to exhibit psychological distress. Young children on SNAP are less likely to be at risk of being underweight or experiencing developmental delays compared to children in similar economic situations who are not receiving SNAP benefits. They’re also more likely to show longterm benefits from access to healthy food.
And so, when I come home at night, after meeting a patient struggling to get enough food, I can take comfort knowing the support they need is available. I know that I can keep their health on track. But I fear this soon may not be the case, especially if the House Agriculture Committee’s proposed 2018 Farm Bill becomes law.
Damaging cuts and changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill will hurt our communities and set back the health of working families, seniors, and people with disabilities. We cannot let Hoosiers in need go hungry. We need our elected officials to recognize the crucial importance of SNAP for our communities and commit to passing a farm bill that reflects those priorities.
Tony GiaQuinta, MD, FAAP President, Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
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