Last month, Eat Well, a weekly New York Times column on the science and culture of eating, highlighted a perplexing contradiction within the framework of our federal government’s spending towards the food we eat.
While the US Department of Agriculture recommends that people fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables, only a small fraction of its subsidies support the production of fresh produce.
So where does the rest of funding go?
The majority of government subsidies go towards commodity crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, milk and meat – which are most often processed into foods we know are linked to obesity.
These foods, constitute the largest source of calories in the American diet, including breads, sugary drinks, pizza, pasta, ice cream and grain-based desserts like cookies, doughnuts and granola bars.
The result? Nearly three-quarters of the American population are overweight or obese.
While this may seem shocking, it's not surprising. From 1995-2010, the federal government spent $170 billion to finance the production of these foods.
To further examine the relationship between government subsidized foods and obesity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observed the daily eating patterns of over 10,000 adult subjects, and concluded those who consumed the most subsidized foods had a 37 percent greater risk of obesity. This group was also at greater risk for abnormal cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
At Integrative Nutrition, we recognize the government’s nutritional recommendations are not always in alignment with its agricultural policies. More often than not, well-intentioned guidelines are dictated by a corporate agenda to drive sales and maximize profits. As a result, our health is suffering.
Ed Gregg, Chief of the Epidemiology and Statistics branch of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, explains that the price of subsidized foods is also a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. When tasked with buying expensive, wholesome produce versus cheaper, processed foods, it becomes difficult for families to make the healthier call.
While the subsidies were initially implemented to support struggling farmers and to secure America’s food supply, the subsidies program has unintentionally supported the creation of a health epidemic.
And as the field of nutrition continues to grow and advance, so should public health policy. Funding for fruits and vegetables should no longer come second to the billions of dollars in subsidies allocated to commodity crops.
The solution? Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches play a crucial role in implementing global health change through education and knowledge sharing.
As Health Coaches, we understand the direct correlation between subsidized foods and poor nutrition, and our work is thus grounded in helping others navigate this perplexing field, through supporting them in making positive behavioral and lifestyle changes towards better health.
What are your thoughts on the discrepancies between the dietary guidelines and agricultural policies in the US? Share in the comments below!