Food insecurity has very far-reaching physical and psychological health effects. Although not all the causal relationships are clear, food insecurity is highly correlated with factor such as
- Cycling between times of adequate food and times with inadequate food, may lead people to overeat and gain weight when food is available (such as right after SNAP benefits are received). When adequate food is not available, the person’s body may become more efficient and resist losing weight. This cycling may be more extreme for mothers, who may provide food for their children at the expense of food for themselves. Remember the scene in the movie, Erin Brockovich, when she lies to her children and tells them that she’s already eaten?
So what are the programs that Dr. Holben prefers? When we asked him this question, he responded by comparing WIC (the USDA Food and Nutrition Service's Program for Women, Infants, and Children) with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps). He prefers WIC because recipients qualify partly based on nutritional risk as determined by a healthcare professional, because only certain nutritious foods can be obtained with WIC support, and because WIC carefully measures outcomes such as iron levels and height and weight of the participants. By contrast, SNAP benefits are based mostly on financial need and can be used for all foods.
Dr. Holben said, “While I believe that people have the right to buy whatever food they want, I don’t agree that some of the foods allowed to be purchased with food stamps are appropriate. … If food stamps are meant to be a supplement to your food dollar, I think it would be OK to say you can’t buy foods such as pop with food stamps.”
One promising improvement to SNAP, called HIP (Health Incentive Pilot), is to be tested by the USDA in Hampden County, MA, beginning in December of 2011. HIP will test whether SNAP recipients increase their purchase of fresh produce if they receive a rebate on their SNAP card for 30% of the cost. If this pilot produces positive results, Dr. Holben hopes it will become a national program.
In addition to federal entitlement programs such as WIC and SNAP, Dr. Holben sees an extremely important role for smaller, more local community nutrition efforts. He demonstrates his belief in producing some of his own food by gardening and keeping bees and chickens. He’s also personally involved in a huge set of community projects such as:
- Athens Community Food Initiatives
- Organic gardening courses for Live Healthy Appalachia
- ECOhio Garden—Everyone Can [in Ohio] Garden plants And Rake Dirt to Enhance Nutrition, a project to help individuals learn to garden, to improve their food access, and to enhance the nutrient density of their diets.
- With student Lori Gromen, a project to plant fruit trees at community gathering places in Athens. We checked out about a dozen of the trees shown on the tree map and found them looking healthy and ready for spring to come! For more information see these articles in The Post and in Planet OHIO News.