A new study on obesity in America entitled “F is for Fat” by Trust For America’s Health, made headlines across the country. It found Americans are fatter than ever. Two-thirds of American adults and 25 million American children are now overweight or obese. This level of unhealthy living has severe repercussions in regards to health care costs and overall national welfare.
Liberals across the country were shouting for more government regulation of the market as the solution, but the government’s push to make a carrot as appealing as a cookie is having the same record of success as the “War Against Poverty.” What liberals don’t understand about America’s obesity problem is that the government is the facilitator. The unholy alliance between big business and big government is killing America.
The food industry received from 1995 to 2005 more than $5 billion in federal subsidies annually. The breakdown is this: 73.8 percent of the subsidies go to the meat and dairy industry, 13.2 percent are to grains, 10.7 percent to starch, sugar, oil and alcohol, nuts, fruits and vegetables make up a whopping 2.2 percent. Between subsidies and the technological and pharmaceutical developments over the last several decades, the process of producing meats, eggs, starch, sugar and corn based products such as high-fructose corn syrup have been made cheaper, and as a consequence food is unhealthier.
Bad food has now become cheap, super-sized, pharmaceutically enhanced, and terrible for your body. Cheap beef made from factory farming that receive the benefits of federal subsidies as well as brilliant marketing campaigns is partly the reason the fast food industry grew from $6 in 1970 to $110 billion in 2000. As comedian George Carlin once said, “Americans are fatally attracted to the slow death by fast food.”
Food subsidies make up only part of the government’s responsibility in America’s obesity problem. Obesity due to poor diet habits can also be linked to the death of the small farm. Small farms for the majority of our nation’s history held the key to sustainable food production, local culture and a healthy diet.
Since the 1930s, however ,small family farms have been on the decline, and many of these reasons are clearly directed at government intervention in the market. The wartime draft, inflation in the 1970s and '80s but most of all the regulations created by the FDA and USDA, which are destructive to small farms while only a minor inconvenience to Big Agriculture, which has the money, lawyers and lobbyists to deal with any government conflicts.
This destruction of the local food economy has created what Eliza Sutton, MPH describes in her study “Obesity, Poverty, and the Case for Community Supported Agriculture in New York State”, food insecurity. Where many low income neighborhoods in multiple cities have greater access to fast food or other foods that are energy dense composed more of added sugars and refined grains than fresh produce. Sutton makes the argument at the end of her study that Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) can make a huge difference in getting the poorest Americans access to healthy foods.
CSA has exploded in the last few years, from fewer than 100 in the early 1990s to close to 1,500 according to the New York Times. To many sociologists who aren’t hell bent on wealth redistribution, CSA may be a free market answer to America’s growing health epidemic.
That is until 2009 when President Obama signed into law the Food Safety and Modernization Act. The bill was in response to Big Agriculture’s reckless food production, which caused an e-coli breakout throughout the US. It expands the FDA’s authority over both processed food and fresh fruits and vegetables on all farms that make more than $500,000. It was lobbied for by Kellogg and Grocery Manufactures of America and was opposed by local food enthusiasts like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and The Farm-to-Consume Legal Defense Fund. While it seems a necessary evil for larger expansion of government agencies to protect the safety of American’s food, the new law is another case of a Big Government and Big Business in cahoots. As Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner writes of the law, “This is big government: It trashes traditional ways and local, small business in favor of one-size-fits-all rules that prop up the big guys… Obama’s legislative agenda really serves the companies with the best lobbyists.”
Government is obviously not the only reason for America's bulging waistlines. There are cultural, lifestyle, and economic factors that are rooted in personal choice and the private sector as well.
But more government is not needed. Freedom to grow, freedom to sell and freedom to eat locally without the intense intervention from Washington may be the only solutions. The only way Americans as a whole may be able to go on a diet is if they put Washington on a diet first.