Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
On the June 1st edition of Your World With Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Network (1), John Stossel, a reporter and anchor on the ABC network‘s weekly news magazine 20/20 from 1981 to 2009, and as of late, a regular Fox News Business commentator, stirred up a hornet’s nest with this statement about the impact of a record number of food stamp recipients in the United States. Mr. Stossel expressed frustration that “… poor people in America have an obesity problem and yet we give more people food stamps.”
What’s funny is, his comment was a passing one. The real subjects at hand were the psychological effects of entitlement programs on the poor, and the abuse that is rife in such programs by those who are not necessarily impoverished. But that one comment Mr. Stossel made is the only point upon which the news media has seized. There is a reason for that. But for now, I’ll leave it up to the reader to wonder why.
Meanwhile, let’s examine the basic veracity of the comment. First of all, do poor people in America have an obesity problem? It appears so. The World Health Organization states that “children in low- and middle-income countries are more vulnerable to inadequate pre-natal, infant and young child nutrition. At the same time, they are exposed to high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt, energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods, which tend to be lower in cost. These dietary patterns in conjunction with low levels of physical activity, result in sharp increases in childhood obesity while undernutrition issues remain unsolved.” (2) Obviously, the earlier eating patterns are set in one’s life, the more difficult it is to change them later. Conversely, it is implied here that low fat, low sugar, low salt, energy sparse, micro-nutrient rich foods would tend to be higher in cost, meaning that the more affluent would tend to purchase and consume these foods as a larger proportion of their diet than the poor would, and the poor would be, thus, more likely to be overweight and otherwise less healthy than the affluent.
Next comes a United Press International article from last year, citing a study done by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Involving over 8,000 children in the Seattle area, the population of which is often touted as being among the healthiest in the United States, this study concluded that factors indicating poverty were all prevalent indicators of an increased likelihood of obesity (3).
Focusing on a population on the other side of the country, in February 2010 the American Journal of Epidemiology published the results of a study which agreed with “a growing body of literature demonstrating that neighborhood residential context is associated with obesity. Consistent with several recent studies… current findings demonstrate that residents of low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be obese, net of their own educational and demographic characteristics.” (4)
It is apparent, then, that researchers are in agreement that the impoverished in the United States are generally more obese than those who are not impoverished. Presumedly, this former group would include current food stamp recipients.
Now that we have that out-of-the-way, let’s get back to Mr. Stossel’s statement. We can agree that he was right to say that “poor people in America have an obesity problem.” We’ve established that, although obesity is increasing across all socio-economic strata, it is increasing at a greater rate among the poor.
And what about Mr. Stossel’s contention that “we (through government-funded programs) are giving people more food stamps.” Well, are we, or not? Again, a simple look at the facts can prevent a rush to judgment.
Here, we need look no further than that same source cited by every respectable news outlet, the United States Department of Agriculture, which states that not only has food stamp distribution increased by 60% from March 2008 to March 2011, but costs have increased a whopping 113% in three years (5)! And over the last 10 years, from 2001-2010, the same numbers, respectively, are 132% and 316% (6)! This means, effectively, that in 2010, this program required four times the money to serve twice the recipients than it did in 2001. In contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the Consumer Price Index, often cited as, but an incomplete indicator of, the actual inflation rate, went up only 23.2% over that same 10 years (7).
So why have food stamp distribution costs gone up 184% in the last 10 years, when inflation, according to the horse’s mouth, has gone up less than 25%? That’s a good question, one that alarms critical thinkers like Mr. Stossel, and one that his opponents would prefer never occur to the general public. Mr. Stossel hasn’t won 19 Emmys and 5 awards from the National Press Club for excellence in consumer reporting because he is rash and thoughtless (8).
And that is why his critics would prefer to tell you what to think of a single statement he made, instead of you actually listening to it first, in context, taking a breath, and deciding for yourself by your own critical thinking what Mr. Stossel meant. His statement was simply that, in a time when the our country is buckling under the exponentially increasing burden of our public debt, maybe we should question the wisdom of adding recipients to a program that is riddled with waste to serve a demographic that obviously is not starving to death, but in fact might be eating itself to death.
And that was Mr. Stossel’s point. Never did he suggest that food stamps were responsible for obesity. His statement that “… poor people in America have an obesity problem and yet we give more people food stamps” did not imply cause. “And yet” is not synonymous with “because.” The missive was simply a plea to not exacerbate an existing problem.
Maybe what food stamps can buy needs to be more limited. Maybe food stamp fraud needs to be more aggressively pursued and prosecuted. Maybe both issues need attention. But something must be done. Clearly, current trends within the program are unsustainable. That was the point of the statement.
So where do we go from here? Well, the ignorant and blindly trained are easily duped. And who are they? Those who entrust too few sources with too much influence.
We must not only have information, but we must also know how to interpret it. We must remain open-minded, but discerning. We must be able to distinguish fact and logic from opinion, delusion, hyperbole, propaganda, and lies. And we must not rest, because the enemies of truth and freedom certainly do not.
One could begin in a thousand places, and every journey begins with a step. Just for fun, take the first one here, by reading the National Inflation Association’s 2010 U.S. Inflation Report: http://inflation.us/2010inflationreport.html. C’mon, it’s only 15 pages. YES, YOU CAN! Aahh! Now we’re getting somewhere.
Peace be with you!