Lawmakers in South Carolina want to make it impossible to buy soda with food stamps. Since about a third of people in the state are overweight, they’re hoping it will begin to curb the obesity problem—but is their thinking misguided?
About 1.5 million people in South Carolin are obese. Officials in the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Department of Social Services want to start with a small sample population (just three counties) and see if prohibiting the purchase of soda by EBT (commonly called food stamps) users will help this growing problem.
DHEC director Catherine Templeton said:
We’re not trying to prevent people from exercising their free choice, that’s fine. But I don’t think its appropriate for the federal government to spend $2 billion a year on sugar-added drinks than have to pay the hundreds of billions of health costs that are caused by the obesity epidemic.
We’ve written about similar proposed laws in Florida, as well as research that shows that $2.1 billion dollars of food stamps money is spent each year on sugary drinks. I have to admit I’m kind of torn on this issue. While I agree that the obesity problem in our country is completely out of control (and that people are way too addicted to soda) there’s a libertarian streak in me that doesn’t think the government should be able to sanction what people eat, do, or buy. I’m sure there are people who will say that people who use government assistance should just take what they get, but that’s not an attitude I agree with.
There are already some restrictions in place on what can be purchased with an EBT card: alcohol, tobacco, medicine and pet products are just a few.
What do you think about this issue? Should people be free to buy whatever they want with their government assistance or should there be limits?