Editorial: Ban on junk food appropriate only with due diligence

  • Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 7:54 a.m.

South Carolina’s Department of Health wants to see the state issue a ban on the use of food stamps for sugary drinks, cookies, candy and cakes.

It’s merely a recommendation by a state agency at this point, but sticking to the proposal could be a sound idea as long as the right parameters are set.

If the state can find the legal grounds to make steps toward implementation, it must be careful not to weigh the guidelines and specifications too heavily one way or the other.

An overly generalized ban could see little to no impact, while highly restrictive, inflexible measures could do more harm than good. Instituting such a requirement could set the state on a healthier path and allow food stamps, which are a taxpayer-subsidized service, to be used for better nourishment instead of adding to growing health concerns. But applying it to real-world scenarios could prove troublesome.

South Carolina has the nation’s seventh-highest obesity rate, with at least 30 percent of the state’s adults considered obese. Unhealthy eating habits are also seemingly ingrained in our society, with ads for unhealthy foods permeating our culture.

Particularly in the rural parts our state, South Carolinians additionally deal with an issue known as food deserts, areas with limited access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods.

Instead of nearby supermarkets, some communities are seemingly stuck with finding the quickest and closest option, usually fast food or even what can be picked up at the nearest gas station.

Consequently, some South Carolinians, including those using food stamps, are susceptible to poor diets merely because of the lack of resources around them.

It’s obviously an issue that needs to be curbed, but legislating behavior is an uphill battle.

In recent years, both Minnesota and Mississippi have tried to move toward implementing more health-conscience laws and programs. Minnesota was turned down on the federal level, while Mississippi withdrew its proposal before consideration. New York City’s ban on sugary drinks also became a hot-button issue recently, only to be rejected by the federal government as too broad in scope.

Should a ban be put in place in South Carolina, the effectiveness could easily be suspect if lawmakers and state officials don’t do their homework.

Determining what food is considered healthy and unhealthy is a fine line, and we can only imagine at this point how the state would go about educating the public with the changes.

It would likely take a massive effort, one that could add a hefty price tag to the state. We must also remember that there are thousands of South Carolinians who don’t use food stamps, but still unwrap unhealthy snacks and suffer from obesity and other weight-related concerns.

It’s commendable to see the state working to improve the lives of its citizens, but implementing and enforcing such changes may ultimately be valueless if done halfheartedly.

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