Too Much Government Makes Us Sick

While Congress is busy working on health care reform, policy-makers are reluctant to admit that many of our nation’s health problems are linked to practices subsidized by taxpayers. An American diet heavily dependent on corn and corn-derivatives is linked to obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, Type II-Diabetes, constipation, joint pain, and other ailments. The tragic irony is that government subsidizes the low-cost production of the corn-based, unhealthy foods that make many people sick. Now the Obama administration wants to give these same policy-makers responsibility for our health care.

According to the Environmental Workers Group, corn subsidies in the United States totaled $56.2 billion from 1995-2006. This government intervention has encouraged the widespread use of corn syrup as a sweetener in many manufactured foods. Yet many of the unhealthiest foods are those with the highest levels of high-fructose corn syrup. In effect, government subsidies have made unhealthy foods extremely cheap to produce. Corn syrup is now found in an unbelievable number of products ranging from salad dressing to hot dogs.

Government policy-makers regularly prove themselves to be unwise decision-makers by continuing to introduce arbitrary agricultural price distortions that create incentives for producing unhealthy food through farm subsidies. Perhaps the most effective national health care initiative moving forward would be allowing markets to function so that people can make better food choices.

We cannot be good stewards of our bodies or nature if we do not have accurate information. Prices help to convey that information. For example, what would happen if the market determined actual corn prices? Not subsidizing corn would cause a needed price correction. Perhaps our hamburger value-meals would adjust in price creating disincentives to eat fast-food. Without corn and other agricultural subsidies, maybe the price of meat would adjust to a point encouraging different choices benefiting us all in the long-run. Maybe, for example, eating a 72-once steak at the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo, Texas would be too expensive to consider.

While individuals are ultimately responsible to exercise good stewardship in choosing what and how much to eat, incentives can be distorted by government meddling in the market. Dr. Barry Sears, author of Toxic Fat: When Good Fat Turns Bad, argues, “The problem lies with America’s continually subsidizing of corn and soybean production.” Government subsidies generate “an oversupply of cheap refined carbohydrates and cheap vegetable oils that when combined give rise to increased diet-induced inflammation.” This inflammation in turn “activates the genes in people who are genetically predisposed to gain weight with relative ease,” giving rise to all the health problems connected to excessive weight. Medical spending for obesity is estimated to have reached $147 billion in 2008, an 87 percent increase in the past decade.

The August 31, 2009 issue of Time Magazine similarly noticed the corn subsidy link to America’s diet and health-care problems. The story explains why a burger, fries, and soft-drink can be cheaply purchased in most fast-food places for around $5 — “a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults,” writes Bryan Walsh. Notably, the $100-billion fast food industry and the $23 billion snack food industry are built on corn subsidized by tax-payers. Is it any wonder that these foods tend to saturate lower-income neighborhoods?

Thanks in part to government policy-makers, unhealthy food is cheap and the cost of treating diet-related medical problems is exploding. There is general consensus that a healthier American diet would lead to better overall health and reduce healthcare costs.

The bottom line is this: if we want a healthier America, government should no longer subsidize farmers one penny, leaving the market free to give us the information we need to make good decisions. The Obama administration and Congress would do the country an enormous favor if it stopped asking us to assist the production of food that contributes to poor nutrition. This would be real progress toward better stewardship of our bodies, and better health.

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  • kent4jmj

    Government intervention the problem, I’m shocked. Less government the solution that just can’t be right./s

  • davbehav

    Only in America would we whine about having too much food.
    What about personal responsibility?
    I agree that our government is intruding far to much into our lives, like the drip of a faucet we don’t notice intil the tub over flows.
    Every time I open up the Catholic exchange now I am prompted to adopt another child from a poverty stricken country. We have 7 of our own to feed plus 3 in Nicaragua.
    Now I have finally found the soultion to feeding the starving children of the world.
    We just take a few billon from the farm co-op and and open up a Wendys in every neighborhood in the third world.
    1,200 calories from one meal! That would feed a family in Haiti for a day instead of the dirt cakes that they eat now.
    How about concentrating on the people in this world that really have it bad instead of whining about too much to eat here.

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  • bonniekn

    Being from a farm family and in the ag business, I’m really discussed with the recent articles like this the spits out the untruths of the anti meat eating agenda. Tell me why meat hasn’t double in price over the last couple years when corn and soybeans have averaged over double their historical price? Why is the farmer the bad guy when we have an abundance of cheap food for the poor in this country and the world to eat? Why am I considered bad for being part of the most efficient food provider in the world? Why can’t these people talk more about self control when eating instead of blaming the food system?

  • momof11

    I don’t think the article is whining about us having too much food in the U.S.. It seems to me it is saying the government is encouraging the production of some of the least healthful foods by subsidizing at great cost. It is about the refinement of corn into high fructose corn syrup which is a health hazard due to its overuse, which occurs in great part due to an artificially low price. And don’t get me started about the production of corn for fuel (ethanol) purposes. How many acres of land which could be used to produce healthful food for export to impoverished peoples or increasing the availability of more healthful grains, fruits and vegetables which would have the effect of lowering their prices and encouraging people to consume them instead of the “cheap” less healthful foods are instead used for corn which is then refined into high fructose corn syrup which is over used to the detriment of the collective health of our nation.

  • cmacri

    Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if what the government is subsidizing is unhealthy. The problem is the subsidies skewing the market in general. I’m sure there are subsidies for healthy food items out there also. Get rid of them, too. I have no clue whether or not this would cause farmers to find some other unhealthy but cheap alternative (nor does the author, unless he has some kind of crystal ball), but at least the markets would be operating more freely.

  • wgsullivan

    At the risk of sounding cranky… Probably 90% of the U.S. hasn’t a clue what it takes to raise food for the world.
    Acres of corn for ethanol are still and will remain acres of corn as ethanol looses it’s funding. Nothing else other than soybeans and a few other non-fruit, non-vegetable crops will grow or make economic sense for most corn farmers.
    Remember, while cash for clunkers costs billions and the Mexican air is soiled by the clunkers draining south, if our cleaner air/oil dependence is worth the dollars, then any oil dependence derived from the ethanol is double fold if not more with by-products.
    The idea of sending beef south to feed the hungry is a wonderful idea. But our government would rather send funds to be pilfered by those in power. Even the beef would most likely find it’s way to the black market.
    I could go on longer but the soap box must be yielded.

  • goral

    King corn is greatly contributing to Americans being fat and unhealthy.
    It doesn’t matter the income level. Our diet is saturated with all sorts of
    derivatives of the one food source as the article states.
    It’s an unhealthy approach to nutrition and the proof is everywhere.