Interview with Deborah Frank in this month’s Street Roots on food stamps and the right to food

When I was attending Willamette (1998-2000) I used to visit Portland from time to time. I still remember the first time I encountered someone selling Street Roots downtown. It’s a paper that generates employment for the homeless and poor and, by featuring their writing, helps give them a voice. When I moved here to live I was happy to see that it’s still going strong. The lead story in the current issue features is Food as a human right: how cuts to food stamps are hurting the next generation, and interview with Dr. Deborah Frank:

Frank is the founder and principal investigator of Children’s HealthWatch. Frank has researched the cumulative risk factors in children’s households, such as food, energy, and housing insecurity and their impact on children’s health and development. She comes to the research naturally, as a practicing physician whose clients are primarily families on public insurance or with no insurance at all. She is currently the Director of the Grow Clinic for Children at the Boston Medical Center and is professor of Child Health and Well-Being at Boston University School of Medicine.

It hits pretty hard:

If the mother is hungry during pregnancy, the child will be smaller and sicker and the effects go on throughout life.


Early childhood is when the baby’s brain is going to increase two and a half times — two-thirds of the adult size — with adequate nourishment. Nutrition is the building block of the brain. Nutrition is an essential part of our immune system. Humans who are malnourished are more susceptible to infection and they stay sicker longer. And often they are left underweight by the infection and catch the next infection. Which is why we see such a tight connection between children’s nutrition and hospitalization.


It’s been calculated that a $20 billion cut in SNAP (which is about the combined impact of the November cuts with the current legislation) will lead to a $15 billion increase for diabetes alone. People who have diabetes have to eat a very specialized diet and eat very regularly, particularly if they are on medication. On the other hand, if they’re only able to afford what is called high glycemic index foods like soda pop, chips and bread, potatoes — you can fill yourself up for not a whole lot of money but they tend to make your blood sugar race up and down and there are more complications to diabetes.


If you’re trying to save society money, that’s not how to do it. What you’re doing is increasing all kinds of impairments, learning ability, hospitalizations, behavior problems, and ending probably with a wash or worse in health care and education cost. And SNAP in particular: It’s the only kitchen table program in that it feeds all members of a family. You can’t go to a fast food restaurant and spend your SNAP there. All of the other programs (that provide food), they only feed people in congregate settings. So when you have a blizzard and those kinds of situations, they’re closed.

I highly recommend reading the entire interview.