CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) Obesity is the state's No. 1 killer and state leaders say South Carolina's food stamp program could help lower that number.
On Thursday in Columbia, state leaders announced they will ask for a waiver from federal regulation in order to include healthy food as a requirement for SNAP participation. Officials hope the move will encourage people to make better food choices.
"At what point do we not have accountability? 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," said Gov. Nikki Haley.
Officials say SNAP feeds nearly a million people in the state and if the proposal is approved, South Carolina would be the first state to have a mandated healthy snack program.
"We have watched for too long how obesity has killed many of the citizens of South Carolina," said Haley.
State leaders know they can't control what everyone eats, but they want to have a say about what people on food stamps can buy.
The issue has certainly struck a chord with Lowcountry parents.
"You can't tell me what I can eat! I can eat whatever I wan'!" said Charleta Burch.
She's been on food stamps for the past eight months. She says it's what has fed her family during hard times.
"I make about $600 every two weeks. Living in Mount Pleasant, it is very expensive," said Burch. "It helps us all with bills and everything as well, so that's one less I bill I have to actually really worry about."
Burch admits she's overweight but says her health is her business.
"I do have diabetes, so I need sugar. I have to have at least a piece of candy or something around," said Burch.
Lee Payne is not on food stamps and she's not overweight. Still, she believes limiting what people can buy with food stamps discriminates.
"If you make some uniform rule that people with food stamps can only do X, Y, Z at the grocery store -- it's just very mean-hearted," said Payne. "What if their kid's got leukemia? You know we're going to say he gets green beans and liver until he's dead? We don't know what we're doing. It's extremely judgmental, and I would be completely opposed."
One of the program's biggest supporters, Louis Yuhasz, has been fighting for years to improve dietary guidelines and fight childhood obesity.
"Chicken, broccoli and oranges and apples and those types of things should be able to be purchased versus soda, Gatorade and sugar-sweetened beverages and potato chips," said Louis Yuhasz.
Yuhasz is also the founder of Louie's Kids.
"On these publicly funded programs, we believe that you should be looking at more solid whole foods for you and your family, which is going to make everybody better," said Yuhasz.
Burch disagrees. She argues you can't force anyone to eat better.
"You're still going to see people buy whatever they want and what are you going to say to them? You're really going to walk up to someone and say, 'Oh, you can't do that!' Oh, yes I can!" she said.
But if lawmakers have their way, she won't be able to buy whatever she wants -- at least not with food stamps.