Did you know the policy makers, equipped with your tax payer dollars, are fundamentally responsible for the current horrible state of public health in the U.S?
But how are the policy makers responsible you ask?
It’s the strong government subsidization of crops such as corn and soybean that ensures processed, energy-dense foods are cheap to produce and cheap to buy. And it’s the availability and affordability of these foods that are at the heart of current health issues in developed countries.
This topic has recently come to surface again in the new study Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic, soon to be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The authors found the most crucial factors influencing obesity are the cost and availability of unhealthy foods in comparison to healthier foods, hence the powerful relationship that exists between low-income and obesity. And it’s these factors that the government can change dramatically… if it wants to.
“Tackling the policies that translate into food production and availability could be the most widespread preventive measure to address the obesity epidemic,” according to Caroline Franck, lead author of the paper.
Given the current policies in place, grocery stores and restaurants are able to sell processed foods at artificially cheap prices because subsidies have made the main crop used in production so lucrative to grow.
For example, corn is subsidized, and consequently the terribly-unhealthy high fructose corn syrup has become the main ingredient used to sweeten soft drinks, fruit drinks, condiments, etc.
Soybean is another crop heavily subsidised and now makes up 70% of fats and oils that Americans consume. Of course, in essence corn and soybean aren’t particularly unhealthy, but the Frankenstein products the manufacturers create from them sure are.
Plus, I find it particularly ironic that the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which aren’t very effective) instruct consumers to avoid processed foods when in fact it’s those processed foods which are receiving federal subsidies.
Congress considers a new farm bill
The study’s findings actually come at a convenient time as Congress considers a new Farm Bill that will govern agricultural policy for the next five years. And considering we now know the impact this farming decision will have on food supply and health, it’s vital for the nation to weigh in heavily on this occasion (or even just be considered this time around).
Franck wrote, “A revision of agricultural priorities is in order: public health interventions will remain limited in their impact until they can inform decisions that are made at every level of the American food chain, from growers to consumers.”
But if these legislative decisions are indeed all about the money, then we just need to stop and take a quick look at the numbers. It’s been reported that over the last 15 years, U.S. taxpayers have spent around $245 billion on subsidizing the ingredients that contribute significantly to processed foods.
And with medical costs of obesity now estimated at $150 billion annually (according to the CDC), you could probably argue the current subsidies are not really that cost effective…
Alternatively, we could try using the tax payer dollars to subsidize most healthy food crops, making whole fruits and vegetables extremely affordable (just imagine!). And given the aforementioned health costs, I have a feeling this could pay off very handsomely in the long run.
It would be unfair if I didn’t mention that there is one other fruit or vegetable receiving significant government subsidy love: the apple. Apples currently receive $262 million, accounting for a WHOPPING 2% of corn and soybeans subsidies.
Current farm subsidies hurt
Sure, during the Great Depression 80 years ago, farming subsidies were implemented with great intentions. But today they’re hurting far more than they’re healing.
If we want people to change the way they act, we need to change the environment around them. If you want someone to buy more fruit and vegetables and less processed foods, then prices should be the first thing to change.
Unfortunately, I fear that as long as a legislative decision can have a direct effect on the profits of the Big Food companies, we’ll continue to see some unexplained and irrational policy decisions.
What are your thoughts?
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
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