December 22, 2006

Why does the US make unhealthy foods cheap?

The obesity epidemic started fairly recently. And it got a big push by the US government as farm subsidies have gotten as big and fat as today's youth.

It seems that the most unhealthy food is also the cheapest food. Why is that? Because farmers are paid to grow corn, sugar, beef, pigs and just about anything that's unhealthy.

Just like the subsidities in the oil industry, oil is cheap in comparison to solar and wind.

But imagine an United States where we invested in healthy foods (and renewable energy sources). Why can't we give grants and subidies to companies, farmers, restaurants that serve us RightSize portions and healthy foods? As a country we would save billions of dollars and millions of lives. It's estimated that for every dollar of prevention, 10 dollars is saved in medical expenses.

Last night on the Larry King show, Dr. Andrew Weil was asked the most pointed question in the obesity issue: Isn't fat self-inflicted?

WEIL: Larry, that's not fair to say -- it is not fair to say that it is self-inflicted. People are being targeted by manufacturers of foods.

KING: Yes, but they choose to eat it.

WEIL: They promote high blood sugar.

KING: Yes, but they choose to eat it.

WEIL: I don't think that's always fair. Often these are the cheapest foods that people can buy. The federal government subsidizes crops in ways that drive down the prices of these cheap carbohydrates. I don't think it is fair to say that it is all individual responsibility. I think it is collective responsibility.

OZ: Andy, would you agree that it is at least your personal ability to reverse it is there. And folks can lose the belly fat faster than anything else by just making the dietary shifts. Because when we treat these folks with medications, oftentimes it backfires.

The insulin, for example, we give diabetics often causes them to gain weight. The beta blockers we use to treat their high blood pressure will often cause them to gain weight. So our very treatments are hurting the people that we're trying to help.

WEIL: Yes, no question about that. But I think the basic information about nutrition is just not there. You ask most Americans to name a whole grain food, and they'll tell you whole wheat bread. Whole wheat bread is not a whole grain food. It is made from flour and it digests rapidly and raises blood sugar. People need to understand the basic facts of how the foods you eat affect blood sugar and predispositions to type 2 diabetes.

Let's stop our government from contributing to the obesity epidemic. Stop unhealthy subsidies. I didn't say stop subsidies (I am a realistic). Let's start healthy subsidies. Let's pay farmers to grow healthy foods, making it cheaper for healthy portions.

We need to lobby Congress. The 2007 Farm Bill will affect more than farmers. It affects you every time you are in the supermarket and it affects your children every time they eat a school lunch. Tell your Congressional representative that you want healthy choices, not pork barrel politics. See Sustainable Agriculture to start the fight.

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