Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Regulating Our Sugar Habit

Ronda Storms is a state senator in Florida. She recently introduced a bill to prevent people in her state from using food stamps to buy unhealthy food like candy and soda. Here's a link to a piece in the NY Times about the bill. I wonder what folks reading this blog think about her proposal, especially those of you in my Philosophy and Public Issues class.

A tension that comes up often in ethical debates is between paternalism and autonomy. We want to protect other people from harm; but, at the same time, we want to let people have the freedom to do what they want to do. Obviously these goals can come into conflict. Consider laws having to do with wearing seat belts or laws requiring children to attend school. Such infringements on our freedom are often deemed justified--these seem like good laws to have. And this is true even if it means that people then don't have the freedom to refrain from using seat belts or going to school. But paternalism surely has its limits. Is this bill a case of paternalism running amok?

There may be rather strong philosophical arguments for extending things beyond food stamp reform. Foods that are very high in sugar and fat have severe negative health impacts and have very high costs to society (e.g., medical care costs, lower productivity at work, lower life expectancy, environmental deterioration, fewer people are able to serve effectively in the military, etc.)*. It might appear, then, that we ought to ban such products altogether. Surely many people would object to this sort of policy. But if we take paternalism seriously and we really care for members of society, then we've got fairly good reasons for banning such food or, at least, seriously rethinking our policies related to the food we eat.

Comments related to these issues are most welcome...

*These are all things that I've heard in debates about our food policy. You might be surprised to hear about worries regarding our ability to field an effective military, but this is something that's receiving a good deal of attention from the folks in Armed Forces recruiting in the U.S. This is a testament to how far-reaching the negative effects of our diet can be.


Kayla Swartz said...

After reading your statements regarding the issue, and reading Storms' article, I actually think I'm convinced. I can see how many people would look at this bill and say that it's taking away their right to consume the food they wish to, but at the same time I think it's completely ethical.

People receive welfare because they do not bring in a surviving income. Along with welfare comes food stamps. Working in a grocery store through high school, I would see so many people come in and buy junk food and pop ALL the time. Is that really where our tax money should be going...to allow these people to buy foods that are likely to cause health problems? It just doesn't make sense to me. We're supporting potential obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The main thing that I find completely unethical about people buying junk food with food stamps, is that the government is funding for them to have food and it's not even food that is nutritionally worth eating. The people that are granted food stamps, receive them because they cannot afford proper nutrition for healthy living. I don't believe that buying junk food with food stamps serves that intention whatsoever.

Storms', with her argument for this bill, is concerned with paternalism, taking care of the people in our society. I think that's exactly what her bill is doing; it's trying to better take care of these people. She states, "The goal is to feed GOOD food to hungry people.” I think that's the only ethical way to justify granting people food stamps, and I agree with her 100%.

Jacob Shepherd said...

I, too, worked at a grocery store, and the people with food stamps definitely weren't buying things that their bodies needed.

But I think that the government's main obligation should be to educate its citizens about the choices that they make in their daily lives. I don't think people know a whole lot about the terrible stuff that goes into so many of the things we consume. I think that, in a lot of cases, the thinking behind a food choice commonly sounds something like "Pepsi tastes good and goes great with pizza, so I'm gonna buy it." If government invested a bit more (and by that I mean a lot more) funding toward educational programs dealing with nutrition in the public schools, I think a lot of people would decide to think more critically about their consumption habits.

It seems to me that if the government gets control over what we eat, then the decisions as to what should be available to us would be rather arbitrary. But I like smaller government usually. So I think a better option would be to educate people about the pros and cons of certain foods. I think the ultimate decision should be the consumer's, though.

If we continue to make poor food choices, then the consequences should be ours to bear.

But in some respects, maybe government should also seriously reconsider it's food policy. Feeding such imperative forces as our military and children should not be taken lightly at all. The military needs top-notch sustenance to keep being awesome, and our kids need good-quality food in order to develop correctly.

These issues seem to be pretty obvious. But I think that educating people as to what their food choices are is of prime importance. I've heard a saying that "You either pay the grocer or you pay the doctor." I think this is for the most part true. Education on food choices should stress ideas like this. Yes, healthy food may be a bit more expensive now, but it's a whole lot cheaper than being sick all the time later in life. Personally, I'd rather eat healthy things now like whole wheat pasta, etc. then spend any time in the hospital when I'm an old guy.

The list of all the reasons why it is a good idea to choose healthy foods over non-healthy foods is absolutely exhaustive. If government would pay to help kindly enlighten us as to why we should choose healthy, it would be of the best service to society.

Sam Williamson said...

I see a problem with this (specifically the banning of "sugary", "unhealthy" foods) mainly because it doesn't seem to factor in every piece of the issue.

First of all, food stamp money is budgeted in proportion to the number of people in the family that will be using the food stamps in what is believed to be a reasonable amount of money to sustain that amount of people per month. The monetary amount doesn't change depending on the actual amount of food that is bought. It doesn't seem like you can ban a certain food and seriously base that ban on health concerns. A chocolate bar isn't going to harm someone more than milk is going to harm someone who is lactose intolerant, but it would be absurd to telling someone that was lactose intolerant that they couldn't purchase milk products.

Or, if nutritional content is the issue, then it would be relevant to ban foods that are not necessarily unhealthy but do not provide any nutritional content either (like iceberg lettuce, which we get almost no nutrition from).

The designation seems especially arbitrary in light of the fact that pretty much any food we consume can have beneficial and detrimental effects at once. Sticking with the chocolate example, you might consider the fact that chocolate (especially dark chocolate) has been shown to have antidepressant effects, or that it is handy for those that have issues with fluctuations in blood sugar (like diabetes) and may need a sugary snack to regulate their levels.

It seems to me like the food stamp money handed out to people who require assistance should stay proportionate to what people can survive off of with a reasonable amount of planning and that it is up to the people in question to not spend all of their money on chocolate.

Anonymous said...

When first reading the blog I was not too convinced about the bill that has been passed in Florida to regulate food stamps and buying unhealthy foods such as candy and soda. My thought was, if that is what people want to do with the food stamps they receive, then why can't they? But my whole view changed after reading Storm's article about the bill that has been passed. The whole reason for food stamps is to give people the possibility to buy the foods that they cannot buy on a normal basis because they are not capable of affording it. This means, our food stamps are suppose to go towards nutritional types of food that will keep people healthy and in good shape. Buying soda and candy is not going to do anything but harm your body.

I believe that the bill that has been passed in Florida is a great bill.
Not only because it is going to start regulating what people buy with their food stamps but it is going to have an effect in the long run.
People who are currently spending all their food stamps on junk food, and foods that are not necessarily positive towards your body are going to start becoming healthier people. This bill is going to reduce obesity, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and other sickness that can be caused from bad eating habits.

We have so many issues in America that need to be fixed, the bill in Florida that has been passed in saying that America is starting to get on the right track. By regulating what people buy with food stamps we will have less things to worry about, less people being put into the hospitals, and these people in the long run will be paying less money because they will be in better health.

Although I can see people who are receiving food stamps not agreeing with the bill that has been passed, I think eventually they will understand.
It is obvious that buying unhealthy foods is a way of life for them. But being forced to change this habit is going to has such a positive outcome in the end. Although it will take much time for people to get used to eventually they will say okay this was a good idea.

Sherry Troutman said...

Some people can't serve in the
military even if they wanted to.
Consider mentally ill people. They don't want people in the military who are unstable with
the power to kill whoever they want. So these unstable people--
some of them rely on food for comfort--when nothing else works.
Denying them this comfort is wrong.

There are benefits to people who
eat dark chocolate--it significantly lowers depression.
I myself can say that I'm a ton happier when I eat it--and would be totally disgusted with "the man" if they took this freedom away from me. I'm also not saying that food addiction is healthy--I'm trying to break free from it--one day I actually brought a banana to class. I was hungry--sleep deprived--didn't have time to eat so I chose sleeping over eating and brought a banana with me--because it was a healthy choice--would give me energy--and I've been listening to the wii's advice lately. I HATE bananas. But if had to eat an apple or the banana I'd choose the banana. It doesn't have skin that upsets my stomach--and it's sweeter. And it has a high amount of potassium--and my dr tells me I need to eat more potassium. So, I'm trying to listen to her advice.

I think they should treat obesity
and health issues as health issues.
Addiction is wrong on so many levels. But it's also a vicious cycle. They can't just ban everything--that won't solve the problem. They should also try to teach people moderation--and treat their health issues like they are--
Obesity and mental illness are not social issues because of the income
divide--they are health issues because obesity can result from food addictions from people using it as comfort instead of coping skills. They should work on creating more effective coping skills and treat it for what it really is. Education is power.

Sherry Troutman said...

What about the people like
me--who have heart disease
because of deffective genes--
not because of eating habits?

What about us? What about the
fact that exercising too much
causes too much anxiety--over exertion leading to chest pains

Or too much energy that we don't
know what to do with? What about the people who have illness--and the brain cannot propperly regulate
the chemicals so they either have
way too much energy--paranoid or manic you take your pick or not enough energy leading to depression
and thoughts of suicide?

Would you tell the person

Eat the dark chocolate that
will make you happier--

Or try the coping skills that
fail to work 99.9 percent of the time

Or tell them they'd be better off
killing themselves?

How do you guys think about these issues.

These are health issues that need to have more funding and more education to get better options
than just the ole standby chocolate.

Kelly D said...

I completely agree with Sam on this one. Initially I thought, "well maybe it is a good idea. That food money should be spent on actual sustenance." But upon further reflection, Sam is completely right. Where do you draw the line? How do you define what is "good" for people to eat. If you are going to ban its purchase from food stamp users why is it on the market in the first place? If people using food stamps want to be unhealthy that is their choice. While it may not be seen as the most effective way to utilize their compensation, it is that person who ultimately loses because of the inevitable adverse effects a poor diet has on your health. If we want to make real differences in the diet of this society, I think we need to provide much better education about health and dietary needs. A more drastic approach could also be to ban certain junk foods. If you could never eat, let's say, gummy bears (or any other unimportant/purely snack food) for the rest of your life would it really be that bad?!

Joe Burns said...

I understand what you mean when you say that the foods such as chocolate are comforting and shouldn't be denied to anyone in society. I think you have a minor misunderstanding though. The food stamps that the government provide to members of society that are in need are not for comfort and enjoyment purposes. To my understanding, food stamps are offered in an effort to provide certain qualifying individuals with the necessities for survival such food and water. Eating chocolate is "comfort" food and not a means of survival. There are many more useful alternatives that provide better health results in comparison to chocolate and the like. It is not in the governments intentions to deprive people of food that they enjoy. What they are trying to do is provide for these individuals in the most effective and efficient way possible and chocolate does not fall under that category therefore it shouldn't be attainable with the use of food stamps. I used chocolate as an example but there are many other types of things like this such as soda. In regard to exercise and health issues. Please correct me if I am wrong but I do not think that foods stamps are regulated based on exercise habits and patterns. In general, I feel that the main purpose of food stamps are to provide necessities and not specifically comfort. For the individuals with health issues, I hope that there are other government organizations to assist them but this is not the responsibility and purpose of food stamps. So, with respect to Ronda Storms' newly introduced bill, I think it is appropiate, and I do believe it will reduce misuse of government aid.
Joe Burns

Torrey Johnson said...

I totally agree with the ban on unhealthy food put in place for people who use food stamps. If people are using the government and tax-payer money to buy things I feel these foods need to be eliminated or maybe limited. I think it is totally ridiculous for someone to use tax-payer money to buy something that someone who is supporting themselves may not be able to buy. I have a very bad view on welfare as it is now. I have heard many stories of people who use welfare to buy things that are not necessities. I believe this is completely wrong. There needs to be an incentive to get off of welfare and get a job. When tax-payer money buys everything the person wants there is no incentive. Welfare needs huge reformation and different situations need to be considered. If someone is not capable of working then maybe they get more money than someone who is on welfare because of bad choices or not having a job. So with the current situation of how tax-payer money gets allocated to people in need or quite possibly people not in need, I believe it is completely moral to ban unhealthy food from users of food stamps.

I strongly believe that there is way to much unhealthy food in the United States today. With this food being cheaper and more accessible to people it is hard not to eat it. There is very few places to get healthy food even when it is desired. The cost and accessibility of unhealthy food has made it expand to new locations and become heavily advertised, almost imprinted in the mind. For example, it's 12 o clock at night and your hungry. Where do you go? Of course McDonald's! It's accessible and cheap. The problem is caused by people who eat the food and it is now in their hands to solve it. A ban may be a good idea but I believe it is too strict, sudden, and it would never work. The working people of the U.S. and everyone who supports there own way of living have a good argument against this ban if it was put upon them. This is where freedom or autonomy play heavily on the decision. If people work for or use their own money then they should be allowed to buy unhealthy food. Even if the ban were put in place for everyone, it would not work because people would rebel against the decision and people would find ways to make it. I believe it is extremely important for people in this country to eat healthier but the freedom this country is based on is just as important. The only thing that may be a viable option is to educate and teach against unhealthy eating as earlier posts have stated.
Torrey Johnson

S Vetterly said...

I completely agree that reserving food stamps for healthy food rather than sugar-filled junk food is justified. As was stated in an earlier comment, food stamps are distributed by the government as an attempt to help out those who don't have a large enough income to support themselves.

My first thought when considering the concept of paternalism and its relation to things such as seat belts centered around the debate over whether not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle should be illegal. Growing up with parents who drive/ride a Harley, I couldn't help but adopt their way of looking at the situation. In some cases, wearing a helmet is beneficial. However, in some other cases, the state of having a helmet on when involved in a crash is dangerous. A friend of mine was involved in a crash while riding his motorcyle some years ago. After he and the bike had come to a complete stop, he found that the helmet he'd been wearing had twisted completely around his head and was now sitting backwards. From this, he received neck injuries as well as facial, especially with the cartilage of his nose. While some may argue that the helmet saved his life, there's no way to prove that he would not have been completely unscathed without it. As such, my parents feel that such a debate should not be settled by those who have never touched a motorcycle in their life, much less have driven them. "Let those who ride decide." Allow people the freedom to choose whether or not they want to wear a helmet, and let them live with the consequences either way.

I feel this same concept could be applied to the debate of food stamp reform. While some people may abuse the privilages that come with welfare, others may realize on their own what the healthy and "right" things are to buy with their stamps. In other words, "Let those who receive stamps decide." Just as the motorcycle helmet analogy, let those on welfare live with the decisions they've made. Perhaps by allowing them this freedom, they will realize that real, healthy food is not only better, but more filling (in a good way) than food such as oreos, chips, and candy.

Nicki Kellogg said...

I often think about this issue as I work at a retail store as well and more than half the people on food stamps just buy soda and candy. I am not one to judge, but I think that some sort of regulation is necessary. People have their freedoms but we also are restricted by hundreds of laws. I think people would be angered by the ban, however I think it would help the overall health and well-being of many families. I think education plays a role in the food policy issue. if we educate people on how to eat healthy on a budget, I believe that would drastically help. SO, I agree that we should restrict sugar and other unhealthy foods, as long as we provide the appropriate educationa and alternatives.

Rachel Diehl said...

I agree with the bill the Storms’ has introduced. It’s somewhat the same idea of making people who are applying or are on welfare take a drug test. If you want to be on welfare, you have to be drug free. If people are on food stamp or need them, the guidelines should be that they should only buy healthy food. Yes, junk food is tasty and appealing but it is not all that healthy in the long run. There should be some guidelines that are strictly for food stamps just as there are is for welfare. If you want to be helped out by the government, then should have to abide by their guidelines in order to receive these goods and services.

Alyssa McQuirns said...

I also agree that this bill that will regulate the food that one would be able to buy on food stamps. I feel that this action is a moral one because you are looking after the best interests of another even though some feel that it is taking away some of their freedoms. Following what the blog post stated and what Nikki had to say, we are already restricted by many laws that look out for our best interests and that is exactly what this bill is trying to do. I saw that others felt that by giving government this power, they could take it too far because they will feel they had no limit. This would mean that they would begin taking away even more of our freedoms but the government had this power for awhile now and they have yet to use it in a negative way, just in ways to help protect us further. That is why I agree this bill because it is only looking out for the best interests for the people.

KelseyMilliron said...

I completely agree with Kayla. I have seen so many times people using food stamps to buy for that is not a necessity. From my understanding of the welfare system, it is a program that is suppose to help people who cannot make it on there own get back on there feet. It is supposed to be used a helping hand to help those who can't afford it pay for the food that they need. If you talk to any doctor or health professional they will tell you no one in the world NEEDS a bag of cheetos or a can of pop. Some people have argued before and brought up the idea on people who have certain health problems such as hypoglycemia, they claim they need the sugar. Yes I understand if you have low blood sugar you need things high in sugar to help spike up your blood sugar and regulate your body but there are many other healthy ways in which you can do so. Fruit and fruit juices are actually some of the best ways to get your sugar up, also glucose tablets. Like I said before I am obviously not a doctor but almost any doctor that I have ever known will tell you to choose an apple or banana to get your blood sugar up well before a bag of chips or a candy bar. I think that welfare and food stamps should only be used to buy food products that are needed. Not unhealthy things such as chips and cookies. I may sound like an asshole but I do not care if you try to say you have a right to choose what you buy, if it is your money go ahead buy all the unhealthy food that can cause you health problems as much as you want. But when you are using other people (tax payers) money to buy your food because you cannot do it on your own, don't abuse things by purchasing what you want, go for what you really need.

Sherry T said...

I think that people were getting access to chocolate long before food stamps and if they want it bad enough they will find some way to get it. Sometimes I buy chocolate with cash. I don't always purchase limited chocolate with help from the govt. I also buy bananas and fish with help from the govt. I buy very little chocolate now with the help that I get. I'm not saying that people wouldn't be better off without gummie bears. I'm just saying--if you take away the poor people's comfort food they use as a defense mechanisms when all of the other ones fail--you must come up with something better for them to deal. You do know emotional eating is considered a disorder--and there's reasons why people emotionally eat? It's because they can't find better coping skills. Obesity is a health issue. Diet and nutrition need to be focused on. Exercise needs to be focused on. But you must include exercise and the mentally ill as a class and right now there's no class like that even thought of. I'm saying you need to be more educated before you go away taking away people's coping skills. I do not drink beer or alchol generally or smoke. So I don't harm my body. I also buy tv dinners like weight watchers stuff and smart ones and lean cuisine dinners that are lower in calories and fat. I'm not saying that all junk should be accepted within the food stamps. I'm just saying that there needs to be more education before the govt decides to take everything completely away. And that if they do educate and decide to take it completely away they need to start it out slow instead of doing it cold turkey.

Sherry T

Michael Spong said...

When I first read this, I thought that the bill was a good idea, but the more I've thought about it,I would now have to agree with Sam. If people are only allowed so many food stamps,than who are we to judge what they spend them on. When the food stamps are gone and the family has nothing nutritional left to eat, whose fault is that? Their own! Yes, there are a lot more health problems, due to the choices we make when it comes to food, but they are still our choices.