As an American growing up in the 1970s, I fondly remember my guilt-free days of childhood enjoying Twinkie’s, Coca Puffs, donuts and other tasty (but health-destroying) junk food. All in all, we didn’t eat an enormous amount of it, but still much more than my daughter will ever consume (as in zero).
Today, it seems we know better than to indulge in these fake edibles, laden with artificial and cancer causing ingredients that are nutritionally void. Or do we?
Obesity is on the rise, so are chronic and deadly health problems like diabetes, heart disease and cancer — and each one is closely linked with the rise in processed food consumption. Poverty plays a large role in the foods available to eat as well; there’re entire inner city neighborhoods where you can’t find fresh produce to save your life. To make matters worse, junk food is state subsidized — heavily — making it cheaper for manufacturers and more readily available to consumers. So while the U.S. nation is in a health crisis, the federal government is not combating the problem but rather fueling it with our tax dollars, perpetuating a vicious cycle of sickness which leads to reliance on a broken medical system and a multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry. Where does it end?
Start Them Young
From television advertisements to the school lunch program, children are taught to love their subpar, artificial fare from a very early age. However, there’s been a bit of an uproar of late as Americans have realized school lunch programs in other countries put ours to shame. Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next? painfully drives the point home when he visits a number of schools throughout Europe, where the meals are beautiful, healthy, delicious, and, most of all, civilized. Photographs circulating on social media also highlight the sad state of our school lunch program, which many feel resembles prison food.
Here’s the kicker: our nutritionally anemic midday meal in U.S. schools cost only slightly less than a gorgeous, nutritious multi-course school lunch in France. By comparison, it has been shown that kids in the U.S. who eat school lunches have more weight issues whereas France has the lowest rate of childhood obesity in the industrialized world.
Unfortunately, state-funded American school lunch programs aren’t the only realm where the government pushes junk food over natural, healthy foods — everyday groceries are fair game too.
Your Tax Dollars at Work, Destroying the Health of Americans
Bread, sugary drinks, pizza, pasta dishes and dairy desserts are the top 10 sources of calories for Americans. All are primarily produced from specific crops and farm foods — corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, milk and meat — which are excessively subsidized by the federal government. This renders junk food inexpensive, and abundant.
The U.S. government spent $170 billion between 1995 and 2010 to help with the growing and production of these foods. At face value, they aren’t necessarily unhealthy, but in reality, only a very small percentage of these crops are eaten in their unprocessed form. The rest are made into cheap products such as high fructose corn syrup, processed meats and a range of refined carbohydrates. Subsidies that support the production of fresh fruits and vegetables are just a small fraction of the budget — the lion share goes towards crops and farm products that eventually end up as junk food.
“The subsidies damage our country’s health and increase the medical costs that will ultimately need to be paid to treat the effects of the obesity epidemic,” a 2012 report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, concluded. “Taxpayers are paying for the privilege of making our country sick.” [source]
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, headed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at the association between metabolic diseases and the consumption of federally subsidized food. The team documented over 10,000 adults and the food they reported eating on a typical day. Next, the researchers divided the subjects into specific groups, based on the proportion of foods they consumed that were from the seven major subsidized commodities. Age, sex, socioeconomic factors and other variables were adjusted. It was found that those with the highest consumption of subsidized food had a 37 percent higher risk of obesity — and were more likely to have belly fat, abnormal cholesterol, high blood sugar levels and inflammation, which can further result in excessive free-radical activity and tissue damage.
“This tells us that the factors that influence the prices of our foods are an additional factor,” said Ed Gregg, chief of the epidemiology and statistics branch in the C.D.C.’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “We’re hoping that this information reaches policy makers and the people who influence how subsidies work.” [source]
Critics of the current subsidy program say it doesn’t serve it’s original purpose: to support small farmers who grow fruits, nuts and vegetables, which the government classifies as “specialty crops.” Instead, it now mainly subsidizes goliath producers that crank out “commodity” crops like grains, corn, sorghum and oilseeds.
“Specialty” farms account for three-quarters of U.S. cropland, and yet only receive 14 percent of government subsidies. Massive agribusinesses that focus on commodity crops use 7 percent of cropland, but are paid approximately half of all subsidies.
Raj Patel, a research professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, feels the funding for fruits and vegetable with the latest farm bill was a “crumb” in light of the billions granted for commodity crops. He said we need to adopt a “national food policy” that would support fair wages for farm workers, accessibility to healthy food for all Americans, and align federal nutritional recommendations with agricultural policies.
“It would transition us away from the unhealthy consequences of the current industrial food policy,” he told the New York Times. “I think there’s something very broken about the subsidy system.”