An Economic Diet: Government Food Subsidies Remove Choice from Consumers

By: Dylan Rodgers

Until recently all the responsibility for living an unhealthy life, in terms of diet at least, has fallen on the individual; in families it falls on the parents.  America continues to be one of the unhealthiest countries in the world with our love for fast foods, deep fried everything (even whole sticks of butter), and addiction to sugar.  The approach to combat this trek towards obesity has always been to educate people about nutrition, but like always, this problem is multifaceted.  The documentary Food Inc. along with a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs points to another important aspect of unhealthy living:  the economics.

Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, and Dr. Pablo Monsivais, an epidemiologist at UW, found that to live according to US guidelines of nutrition, for example increasing daily potassium intake, the average consumer had to pay an addition $380 a year on average.  Also if the consumer obtained 1% of their daily caloric intake from foods with saturated fats and added sugar, the costs of food significantly declined.

Drewnowski and Monsivais argue that economics play an important role in our ability to live healthy lives.  In fact, economics drive the public's food choices more than nutritional value, and in an economic recession such as this one, cheap nutrition should be considered priority.  The big question is, "Why is nutritious food so costly?"

The US government provides subsidies to food companies by making certain ingredients like corn and soybeans cheaper.  This results in super-processed foods containing plenty of saturated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and the like.  The study notes that healthier diets don't have to cost more, but using the current method of food production with unhealthy subsidies, a more nutritious diet does cost more.

Drewnowski and Monsivais propose that the government should redirect the subsidies and incentives given to support higher production and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Another idea is brought up by Mark Bittman, an op-ed writer for the New York Times, to provide subsidies only to small-business farms and to levy a tax on unhealthy foods, steering away from those massive food conglomerates and their chemically altering methodology.

One way or another, economically-driven nutrition in this day and age can only result in the majority of the population eating unhealthy foods on a daily basis.  Something must be changed within the current agricultural-economic system to give people the option of living healthy lives.

Photo: lokate 366