By Valencia Wickervwicker@abcnews4.com
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - Some may be surprised to learn obesity is the Palmetto State's No. 1 killer. State officials announced Thursday a plan to use food stamps as a way to curb unhealthy diets.
"At what point do we not have accountability?" asked Gov. Nikki Haley. "This is a state that's saying we want to help those families that need help. We want to help them know what nutrition is."
State officials say 878,000 people use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The state spends $1.4 billion a year on food assistance. Officials say they hope limiting what people can buy with food stamps will cut down on obesity.
"There's a lot of money in this state," said Lillian Koller. "How can we leverage that money here that is being given to low income individuals, which they need to have to support themselves and feed themselves, so that it doesn't work against them."
In a press conference, Koller said state officials will ask for a waiver from federal regulation that will require food stamp recipients to use their funds for healthy food.
For now, only alcohol and tobacco are prohibited.
Combating obesity is a personal cause for Louis Yuhasz, founder of Louie's Kids. His dad died at 65 weighing more than 500lbs.
"You know 12, 15, 20 years ago I didn't know anybody like my dad. I didn't know anybody my dad's size," said Yuhasz. "Now, all you have to do really is walk into any shopping mall."
Yuhasz works with obese children and knows how important it is to make sure families are educated on nutrition.
"No one's saying you know, not to have it. I think really what bares the conversation is -- should government funds be supplementing the very things that are making us and our kids sick?" he asked.
Yuhasz says he hopes state leaders can help encourage more people to make better food choices.
"In other words and very simply, if your mother wouldn't recognize it, it's probably not something you should be buying to begin with," Yuhasz said.
Officials say if the state's waiver is approved, South Carolina will be the first state with a mandated healthy snack program.