Do Farm Subsidies Promote Obesity in the United States?

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  •  Farm Subsidies and Their Promotion of Obesity in the United States

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that fruit and vegetables make up half of the food on our plates. This recommendation is sound, and the person who follows this good piece of advice certainly will help extend her longevity and promote better health in general.

    But as is the case in too many instances, the hypocrisy that often lurks just behind words comes through in the end. We then find ourselves a little less trusting and, as in the case of dubious trust about farm subsidies, a great deal fatter. It seems what the government suggests we eat and what they actually subsidize does not blend very well at all. 

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    The Subsidy Shell Game
    The idea behind farm subsidies is to keep food cheap enough so that Americans do not go hungry. Three hundred billion dollars has been allotted since 1995 to secure this ideal, but the money has been used for crops to manufacture junk food and, thus, fuel obesity, according to a new study.

    Eighty-four billion dollars have been funded for corn, thirty-five billion for wheat, and twenty-eight billion for soy, all of which are mostly used to feed livestock, or as sweeteners and additives in processed foods. On the other hand, only 689 million dollars was subsidized for apples. Financial incentive discrepancies such as this make unhealthy foods preferable to healthy foods.

    Fruits and vegetables are more expensive because they are categorized as specialty crops and do not receive the direct payments that commodity crops do. Furthermore, farmers who are subsidized to grow commodity crops are penalized if they grow the specialty crops of fruits and vegetables.

    Subsidies also have led to fewer farms and less crop variety. Large farms often grow only one or two commodities and push smaller farmers out of the mix. For example, in 2001, 7% of all farms were large farms, but received 45% of federal subsidies. The smaller farms that were 76% of the total farms received only 14% of federal subsidies.

    The Counterargument About Farm Subsidies Contributing to Obesity
    Some research suggests that farm subsidies do not really have much influence on individual health. Health Economics published the results of a study that suggests that the massive amount of government dollars that go toward United States agriculture do not have any great effect on what people consume. The study showed that eliminating subsidies on major grains only amounted to a minimal decrease in the total amount of calories consumed by the average American.

    It should also be noted that other countries providing large subsidies to farmers--such as Japan, South Korea, and France--do not have the same frequency of obesity as the United States. It should be further noted that international comparisons are not always reliable regarding causation when American context is considered.

    Despite the debate about what effect, if any, subsidized farming has on promoting obesity, the fact remains that there is a glaring inconsistency between current agricultural policies and current health policies.   


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Published On: February 23, 2014