Pity the poverty-stricken: Not only do they have to struggle to find food, the food that is often affordable is quite fattening. And according to one study, even the help that food stamps provide is working against them.
"We can't prove that the Food Stamp Program causes weight gain, but this study suggests a strong linkage," Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research, Columbus, noted in a university-issued statement.
Zagorsky and Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan in Dearborn studied nearly 4,000 people in the food stamp program and almost 6,000 not in the program for weight changes.
"While this association does not prove that the Food Stamp Program causes weight gain, it does suggest that program changes to encourage the consumption of high-nutrient, low-calorie foods should be considered," Zagorsky and Smith note in the latest issue of Economics and Human Biology.
In 2008, roughly 28 million people, about 10 percent of U.S. citizens, received benefits from the food stamp program in a given month.
Food stamp participants, Zagorsky and Smith say, may choose cheap, calorie-dense, high-fat, processed foods over healthier, more expensive food because food stamps don't provide enough money to buy healthy foods.
The study says that in 2002 the average recipient received $81 in food stamps per month. "That figure was shocking to me," Zagorsky said. "I think it would be very difficult for a shopper to regularly buy healthy, nutritious food on that budget."
Not factored into the study is the amount of time the poor must sit waiting - for food stamps, for free health care, for transit. Sitting burns few calories, and boredom makes most people want to eat salty or sweet fatty things. Throw in the seductive TV ads for fast food, and you have a sure-fire formula for weight gain.