Dr. Megan Sandel, Children’s HealthWatch Co-Principal Investigator, wrote a blog entry for Human Impact Partners on the health impacts of the Farm Bill.

What Data Tells us About the Farm Bill

In the documentary, “A Place at the Table,” a brave woman from the Witnesses to Hunger program, Barbie Izquiriedo asked policy makers “Do you see me? My name is Barbie and I exist.”  Barbie and her two small children regularly experience food insecurity, and she was questioning policy makers because she believes that if they really saw her that they would not continue to jeopardize critical food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or “food stamps.”

As a pediatrician at a safety net hospital, it isn’t hard for me to see Barbie. Every day, I treat patients and their families who experience real hunger. I see what it does to their health and to their well-being. Congress will reconsider the Farm Bill next month, and while I hope that they will be persuaded by the Barbies of the world to protect SNAP and programs like it, they can also rely on the data.

The Health Impact Project undertook a health impact assessment (HIA) of the original House and Senate proposed Farm Bills, focusing on the policies related to SNAP, analyzing the new deduction requirements and differing decreased access of the food benefit. The HIA had a few important pieces of data that cannot be overemphasized. Access to enough healthy food has a direct impact on the maintenance of Diabetes. The changes made to SNAP in the original House Bill, which “saved” $20 billion over 10 years, has the potential to cost $15 billion over the same time period in increased diabetes-related healthcare costs alone. That says two things to me: we won’t save money and Diabetes patients will get sicker.

The HIA also found it would cost MORE to administer the SNAP program under the new bill, and the proposed cuts to benefits would affect over 5 million people, many of these families trying to feed their children. Colleagues of mine at Children’s HealthWatch and I recently published a commentary in Lancet entitled “SNAP cuts will harm US children,” not because we are zealots for SNAP, but because that is what the data shows.

The data is clear that SNAP works to end hunger. With healthcare costs rising and 50 million people in poverty hungry, we cannot afford to cut it. I hope the policymakers in Congress deciding on the Farm Bill see this data because it shows that cutting SNAP will have a negative impact on health and increase healthcare costs. If they want to make an evidenced-based decision, the evidence is there. They just have to be willing to “see” the data, just like they have to want to see Barbie.

Click here to read the post on HIP’s website.