US farm subsidy policies contribute to worsening obesity trends

July 9, 2013

Agricultural subsidies are responsible for making those processed and energy-dense foods that contribute to the American epidemic of obesity the most affordable options for consumers, concludes a new study led by Dr. Mark J. Eisenberg, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. As Congress debates a new Farm Bill that will determine agricultural policy for the next five years, it is critical that public health be factored into legislation that will define the country's nutritional environment.

"Tackling the policies that translate into food production and availability could be the most widespread preventive measure to address the ," according to Caroline Franck, lead author of the paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

While many factors contribute to obesity, the ready availability and low cost of unhealthy foods in comparison with healthy alternatives are crucial. Indeed, obesity has been closely associated with poverty. Grocery stores and restaurants sell foods made from cheap commodities at lower prices, and commodities used in high fat and sweetened foods are artificially cheap because government subsidies have made the crops used to produce them lucrative to grow.

Citing statistics from 2004, the study notes that 96% of American cropland is dominated by eight main crops, including soybean and corn. The former is the source of 70% of the fats and oils consumed by Americans, while the latter is a high calorie component of soft drinks, , canned fruits, condiments, baked goods, and ice cream, all of which contribute to obesity.

Recognizing that farm subsidies are an important safety net for a volatile industry, Franck and her co-authors propose that agriculture policy take public health into account when identifying how they ought to be dispensed. They recommend investing in sustainable agriculture that emphasizes biodiversity, quality foods, optimizing non-renewable resources, and sustaining the economic viability of farmers. Farmers should be encouraged to grow fruits and vegetables in place of produce used for sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.

"A successful reorganization of the American food environment will require commitment to mutually supportive interventions affecting food availability, price, marketing, and health education, at the local, state, and federal levels of government," Franck wrote. "A revision of agricultural priorities is in order: 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."

Explore further: Healthy eating can cost less, study finds

More information: "Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic," by Caroline Franck, Sonia M. Grandi, and Mark J. Eisenberg is available online as of July 9, 2013 at http://www.ajpmonline.org and in print in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 45, Issue 3 (September 2013), DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.010

Related Stories

Healthy eating can cost less, study finds

May 16, 2012

Is it really more expensive to eat healthy? An Agriculture Department study released Wednesday found that most fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods cost less than foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

New rules aim to rid US schools of junk foods

June 27, 2013

(AP)—High-calorie sports drinks and candy bars will be removed from vending machines and cafeteria lines at all U.S. schools as soon as next year, replaced with diet drinks, granola bars and other healthier items.

Recommended for you

A metabolic master switch underlying human obesity

August 19, 2015

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States alone, and contributes to potentially ...

Scientists probe obesity's ties to breast cancer risk

August 20, 2015

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer, but researchers haven't figured out what connects the two. A new study suggests the link may be due to a change in breast tissue structure, which might promote breast ...

Can a new drug brown the fat and trim the obese person?

May 28, 2015

New research has found that a variant of a drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension prompts weight loss in obese mice. Among mice fed a high-fat diet, those who did not get the medication became obese while medicated ...

Changing stem cell structure may help fight obesity

February 17, 2015

The research, conducted at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), found that a slight regulation in the length of primary cilia, small hair-like projections found on most cells, prevented the production of fat cells from ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

alfie_null
not rated yet Jul 09, 2013
Positing that redirecting or eliminating the subsidies will solve the problem is naive. We, as a society, are used to that sort of food. Maybe even addicted. It'll take a generation or more to move beyond.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.