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Should The U.S. Be Subsidizing Obesity?

by Jonathan Denn, published

There is little-to-no controversy that eating a nutritious diet is healthy.

We have a healthcare crisis in this country that is getting worse—not better. So, why does the federal government give subsidies through the farm bill to corporations and farmers to grow food that is not the most nutrient dense? Isn’t the point to keep our populace healthy?

Making matters worse, why is food that is probably not healthy being subsidized?

Once the body has received all the nutrients it needs to produce energy, and repair itself, it can handle extra food. This is sometimes referred to as dessert, or perhaps a feast. Extra calories are stored as fat, once the liver and muscles have stored all the glycogen they can hold.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) use, epidemiologically speaking, has an almost perfect correlation with the rise in obesity levels in this country. HFCS also is pro-inflammatory which also coincides with the alarming rise in prescription drug use like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. And some folks are particularly susceptible to inflammatory responses.

In a recent article by Marilynn Marconne and Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press, Brain Image Study: Fructose May Spur Overeating, the metabolic differences between sugar and HFCS was explored…

Scans showed that drinking glucose "turns off or suppresses the activity of areas of the brain that are critical for reward and desire for food," said one study leader, Yale University endocrinologist Dr. Robert Sherwin. With fructose, "we don't see those changes," he said. "As a result, the desire to eat continues – it isn't turned off." What's convincing, said Dr. Jonathan Purnell, an endocrinologist at Oregon Health & Science University, is that the imaging results mirrored how hungry the people said they felt, as well as what earlier studies found in animals.”

Now, industry groups are fighting the theory that HFCS is the main culprit behind obesity, but that’s not what our focus was.

Adapted from: Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 79: 537-543.


Many on the right want the freedom to eat what they choose, while others want an end to industry favoritism. Whether you are conservative or liberal in your economics, the false equivalence is to subsidize foods that are anything but—essential healthy foods. Consequently, conservatives may also disagree that food should be subsidized at all. Liberals may want an expansion of subsidies for healthy foods that are not genetically modified and that are organic.

Conservatives will also point out that there are millions of jobs and profits at stake in the areas of agriculture, food packaging, fast food, retailers, drug companies (insulin), healthcare (syringes), and the media. Similarly, it’s hard to get liberals to disagree with anyone who’s hiring.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, it appears a vast supermajority of us agree that subsidizing non-healthy foods is wrong. Polling on aGREATER.US gives equal weight to the opinions of independents, conservatives, and liberals. The U.S. PIRG’s Stop Subsidizing Obesity idea has a strong tripartisan rating of 83%. Is that indicative of the entire electorate? Additional polling data on the Farm Bill’s subsidizing questionably unhealthy foods has yet to be completed.

So, how do we find ourselves here, in a false equivalence, of subsidizing unhealthy even anti-healthy foods during a healthcare crisis? It appears all the roadblocks to vastly popular supermajority reforms are the lack of omnibus electoral reforms.

According to Agribusiness spent over $90 million dollars in political expenditures in the 2012 election cycle. The top corporations were Weaver Popcorn ($2.6M), American Crystal Sugar ($2.1M), Altria Group ($1.7M), Publix Supermarkets ($1.1M), the American Farm Bureau ($1.1M), Spendthrift Farms ($1M), and Weaver Holdings ($1M). Mitt Romney received a disproportionate $7M to Barack Obama’s $2M. Perhaps this has something to do with the First Lady’s war on childhood obesity.

So, the Democrat and Republican duopoly, and their close ties with Agribusiness/Healthcare/Mass Media have resulted in illogical subsidies—that all combine to make what I call the Obesity Industrial Complex (OINC).

"Oink," said all the little piggies making the US obese. Maybe the polling industry is part of OINC, too.

Subsidizing Obesity is one of the many reasons why I'm an Independent.

Do you think “Stop Subsidizing Obesity” is a greater idea?

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