Obesity and Economics: Part 2

In the last article, you were introduced to the connection between obesity and poverty as well as the systems that enforce that relationship. Here you will read about a few options our government has to turn the situation around, as well as tips on how to eat healthy even in this backward system.
Food Subsidies: Need for Change
When a government contributes to its own national health crisis, it is time for a change of policy. The giant corn, soy and meat industries are contributing to the obesity epidemic in America. Removing the subsidies legislated by the farm bill would instantly and drastically change the American dietary landscape; in what way, however, remains a controversial topic.
One argument against removing subsidies from the corn and soy industries is that their production would decrease and their cost, increase. This would mean that the production of processed foods would decrease and the poverty-stricken would have nothing at all to eat.
There are a number of possible points of contention within this argument. First, these markets are currently subsidized so heavily that we produce far more than Americans can consume. The surplus is “dumped” onto other countries at an extremely low price. This prevents the people of that country from making money off of their own labor to grow these crops. If we stopped producing so much surplus, this problem would be eliminated.
Another consideration is that the reallocation of land that has been set aside for corn and soy would be available for growing other, healthier forms of produce. Since more produce would be supplied, its price would decrease.
Without subsidizing the corn market, it may be too expensive to go through the process of extracting corn syrup. Imagine a world where corn is just corn and not the focus of laboratory experiments! A removal of the importation restrictions on sugar associated with corn subsidization would allow corn syrup to be replaced by an affordable and less hazardous sweetener.
While some argue that removing agricultural subsidies altogether would be best, others advocate the subsidizing of healthy food crops. For more on the complex nature of subsidies and the possible effects of removing them, see the article “Tackling Obesity Though Agricultural Policy” by Erin Miller.
Another way to combat the accessibility and affordability of junk food is to make food stamps and WIC benefits usable at farmer’s markets. This is unfortunately not a national standard, but there are grassroots example of this occurring. In the Philadelphia area, for example, a group called the Food Trust teamed up with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to create an incentive program for people receiving government assistance to purchase healthy, fresh foods. The program is funded by a federal grant called Communities Putting Prevention to Work. For more on this initiative, please see
What You Can Do Now
Culture and policy do not change overnight, and you can’t afford to wait for the day of change to come to you. Though there are certainly obstacles between you and healthy food, they are not insurmountable. The very first step is to acknowledge that what is easiest to obtain is toxic to your health.
Next, it’s time to do your research. Find out if there is a farmer’s market, produce farm, meat farm or bakery near you. You are on a mission to find whole foods, foods that have little to no processing. Whole foods don’t contain added fats or sugars that are normally used as stretchers. Strive to purchase only foods with ingredients you can pronounce and identify.
With local farms, it may be possible to obtain cheap, fresh produce. Some farms may sell their products in bulk, and since transportation is not an expense, the food may be affordable even on a tight budget.
Local co-op stores offer you a share in their business in exchange for membership. This often entails a small amount of work on your part, a discount on purchases and a small cut of their profits every year. They also generally have bulk sections where you can purchase high-quality grains, dried beans, herbs and spices for a very reasonable price.
If you do not have access to these quality markets, there is still a way to avoid heavily processed foods. One tip is to eat in season. Find out what produce is in season and try to limit yourself to it. Frozen vegetables are an option if your selection is not in season. Since these fruits and vegetables are frozen almost immediately after being harvested, they contain near maximum nutrient content. Produce that is harvested, shipped and sitting on a shelf for days has degraded nutritional value.
It is surprisingly fast and inexpensive to prepare a healthy meal using a small number of wholesome ingredients. This will take a little more time and creativity than throwing a frozen pizza in the oven, but it will leave you with a meal you can feel good about and enjoy much more.
While it is possible to work toward a healthier diet in a nation where the worst foods are the easiest to get, there will not likely be a national movement toward health until some of the obstacles are removed. When a government simultaneously endorses health and disease, public consciousness cannot be clear.
Perhaps the most important cultural step in the health movement is to stop talking about obesity as a mere aesthetic phenomenon and to emphasize the very real danger of it. Being fit isn’t just about looking good; it’s about living a longer, better life.

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