Some criticize the increased use of food stamps as a social and political issue for Americans - calling it a big business with several beneficiaries.
In low-income families, overweight children outnumber those considered underweight by 7-to-1. Some people are asking - why should taxpayers pay for the junk food people buy with food stamps? But it's really not that simple. I spoke with a nutritionist to find out if obesity rates have a direct link to people on welfare or those who use food banks.
"We have to tow the line carefully when we talk about, should we ban junks foods and what is nutritious versus not. We're talking about a vulnerable population with disproportionate amounts being women and children receiving benefits below the poverty line, being also snap recipients," says Evelyn Mariani, New Hartford Nutritionist.
Processed foods and beverages containing large percentages of sugar and fat have been directly linked to America's obesity epidemic, yet the USDA has been reluctant to create health-based restrictions on what can and cannot be purchased with food stamps. Evelyn Mariani agrees that the food stamp program needs a change, but she doesn't think banning certain foods is the answer
"Looking at this has to be safeguarded with we cannot cut funds at this time, this may be the only safety net that some of these people have. I do think that one avenue would be the WIC program that we do have- that does seem to place more value on foods that are more nutritious so with some modifications that might be a starting point," says Mariani.
Mariani is referring to The Women, Infants and Children's - or WIC Program. That's where people in need get eggs, milk, cheese, and other healthy options. With modifications to include purchases like meat or chicken, some health experts say this could serve as a better template for reforming the food stamp program. Area food banks say it's a tougher issue than is seems.
"In terms of what we do at the food bank, we do give out donated food so food we receive is food we distribute, sometimes it might be higher in sodium or higher in fat, but we give out whatever we can. If we had unlimited funds, we would purchase food and we would purchase only healthful foods," says Mark Wolber, Utica Food Banks President.
Wolber says as much as he would like to give healthy food at the food bank, most foods are donated and as you can see here, there's more fattening foods like mac and cheese that outnumber the healthier options like canned vegetables.
Despite the direct link between obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes, one area residents thinks the government should have no say in what foods people can and cannot buy - she says it still should be up to the parents.
"I think the parent should be smart enough, which we know there is a lot of uneducated parents that do have children, nothing we can do about that, I still say it's freedom of choice, if you want your child to get obese and get diabetes, that is still a freedom," says Cindy McGraw, Oneida resident.