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Hidalgo County has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation . . . which has led almost 40 percent of residents to enroll in the food-stamp program . . . which means a widespread reliance on cheap, processed foods . . . which results in rates of diabetes and obesity that double the national average . . . which fuels the country’s highest per-capita spending on health care.This is what El Futuro looks like in the Rio Grande Valley: The country’s hungriest region is also its most overweight, with 38.5 percent of the people obese.It is a crisis at the heart of the Washington debate over food stamps, which now help support nearly 1 in 7 Americans. Has the massive growth of a government feeding program solved a problem, or created one?
Instead of trying to regulate the estimated $2 billion in junk-food purchases enabled each year by food stamps, he wrote a bill to ban the food-stamp purchase of only one product. That was energy drinks — high in caffeine and higher in sugar, expensive and marketed to children despite offering little nutritional value.“A no-brainer,” he explained as he introduced the bill in a committee meeting last summer.Then he yielded the microphone and waited for rebuttals. The first critic was one he had anticipated, a lobbyist for the Texas Beverage Association(...) But next came a litany of speakers Canales hadn’t expected. They were Democrats who shared his ideals and equaled his devotion in the fight against poverty. At previous committee meetings on his other bills, many of them had lined up to speak on his behalf.And once every product had been rated and sorted, what if some grocery stores decided it was easier not to accept food stamps at all? Or what if food-stamp recipients felt too stigmatized to shop?Wouldn’t lawmakers be better off working to solve the problems of poverty rather than regulating them? How about funding programs for nutrition education, or encouraging more fresh produce in inner-city grocery stores, or building playgrounds and making streets safer so people would exercise? Why not focus on alleviating the stresses of poverty, which so many studies had linked to overeating?