How Your Tax Dollars Are Used Against You by Promoting Obesity and Disease

processed food diet

Story at-a-glance -

  • The United States is the No. 1 per capita consumer of corn in the world; HFCS and other corn-derivatives work their way into nearly every kind of processed food on the market
  • Agricultural policies in the U.S. contribute to the poor health of Americans and play an important role in the ever-worsening obesity epidemic by promoting consumption of cheap junk food that wreak metabolic havoc
  • Fifty-six percent of calories consumed in the U.S. between 2001 and 2006 came from government-subsidized commodities such as corn, soy and wheat — foods associated with a greater probability of cardiometabolic risks
  • Earlier research has also noted that “federal farm subsidies promote unsustainable agriculture while also failing to reward good stewardship”

By Dr. Mercola

Poor health is typically the result of a metabolically inappropriate diet. Many studies have confirmed that processed foods and sugary beverages are significant contributors to obesity and chronic disease, including cancer.

Unfortunately, while the U.S. government appears to be concerned about rising obesity and disease statistics, it has done virtually nothing to address its own role.

Subsidizing corn and soy is about as smart as subsidizing tobacco when it comes to public health, but when our federal government is run by dominate corporations - what else would you expect?

Agricultural policies in the U.S. contribute to the poor health of Americans and play an important role in the ever-worsening obesity epidemic by promoting consumption of cheap junk food that wreak metabolic havoc.

A number of papers published in peer-reviewed journals have pointed out these facts, so policy makers should be well aware of them. 

More Than Half of All Calories Consumed Are From Subsidized Commodities

According to an investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine on July 5,1,2,3 56 percent of all calories consumed in the U.S. between 2001 and 2006 came from government-subsidized commodities such as corn, soy, wheat, rice, dairy and meat.

And, according to the authors, “higher consumption of calories from subsidized food commodities was associated with a greater probability of some cardiometabolic risks.” As noted by Time Magazine:4

“While those may sound healthy, they’re typically not eaten in their whole-food form; rather, they’re turned into cattle feed or refined and converted into sweeteners ... and processed fatty foods ...

 ‘[A]n excess of subsidies in these areas ends up leading to a conversion into foods like refined grains and high calorie juices, soft drinks with corn sweeteners and high-fat meats,’ says Ed Gregg, Ph.D., chief of the CDC’s epidemiology and statistics branch in the diabetes division. ‘It’s basically the way that they’re used that ends up being detrimental.’”

Another study5 published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) in 2013 came to the exact same conclusion, stating that:

Government-issued payments have skewed agricultural markets toward the overproduction of commodities that are the basic ingredients of processed, energy-dense foods,” and that this is “worsening obesity trends in America.”

The authors of this 2013 study also noted that “federal farm subsidies promote unsustainable agriculture while also failing to reward good stewardship.”

Subsidized Diets Raise Risk of Health Problems

Indeed, the Western processed food diet is chockfull of refined added sugars and unhealthy vegetable oils, which are cheap as a result of farm subsidies. The study also found that the young, the poor and less educated people eat the highest quantities of subsidized foods.

Compared to those who consumed the least amount of subsidized foods, these high intake groups had a:

  • 37 percent higher risk of obesity
  • 41 percent higher risk of dangerous visceral fat (belly fat associated with an increased risk for heart disease)
  • 34 percent higher risk for symptoms associated with chronic inflammation
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Corn, Soy and Wheat — 3 Major Junk Food Ingredients

You’d be hard-pressed to find a processed food product that doesn’t contain corn syrup, soybean oil and/or wheat, and there’s compelling evidence showing that all of these ingredients cause significant harm to health when consumed in excess:

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): has been shown to cause more metabolic harm than other sugars.6

Research also shows that while HFCS accounts for about 8 percent of added sugar consumption worldwide, 42 percent of added sugar in the U.S. diet comes from corn syrup.7

So Americans are consuming far more HFCS than many other nationalities, and our disease statistics tend to mirror that as well.

For an excellent scientific analysis on fructose, I suggest reading the report titled “Fructose, Weight Gain, and the Insulin Resistance Syndrome,”8 published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN). It will open your eyes to some of the major problems associated with this sweetener.

Soybean oil: is the most common oil used in the U.S., but this is a relatively new phenomenon. The consumption of soy oil has increased 1,000-fold over the last century,9 and now consists of 10 to 20 percent of all calories consumed in the American diet.

Diets high in soybean oil have been shown to upregulate genes involved in obesity, diabetes, inflammation, mitochondrial function and cancer.10 In fact, soybean oil was found to be more obesogenic and diabetogenic than fructose in mice.11

The excessive consumption of soybean oil is also troubling for a couple of other reasons. First, over 95 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered (GE), and therefore more prone to heavy contamination with Roundup or other toxic pesticides.

Second, this extreme increase has also contributed to widespread omega-3 to omega-6 imbalance. Soybean oil is primarily omega-6 fat, and a significant source of dangerous trans fat.12

According to researchers,13 “the apparent increased consumption of linoleic acid (LA), which was primarily from soybean oil, has likely decreased tissue concentrations of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during the 20th century.”

Wheat: has been identified as a potential trigger of poor health via a number of mechanisms. While no GE wheat is grown in the U.S., desiccating conventional wheat with Roundup is a common practice.

By applying the pesticide right before harvest, farmers can dry out the grain faster for the harvesting schedule. As a result, most non-organic wheat tends to be contaminated with this toxic pesticide, which in addition to the heightened level of gluten in modern wheat helps explain the rapid rise in gut disorders, such as leaky gut and celiac disease, and associated health problems.

By Subsidizing Processed Food Diet, U.S. Government Promotes Ill Health

None of these findings are secret. The research has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and publicized in the mainstream media and various books.

A paper14 published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) in 2004 argued that U.S. agricultural subsidies foster poor health, as did a paper15 published in the Annual Review of Nutrition that same year, so this is certainly not a new observation.

This means the U.S. government is more or less intentionally promoting obesity and ill health, since no steps have ever been taken to address the inappropriate distribution of farm subsidies toward obesity and disease-promoting food commodities.

A 2012 report by the non-profit organization United States Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) titled “Apples to Twinkies, Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food”16,17 revealed that if you were to receive an annual federal agricultural subsidy directly, you would receive $7.36 to spend on junk food and just 11 cents to buy apples.

In other words, every year, your tax dollars pay for enough corn syrup and other junk food additives to buy 19 Twinkies, but only enough fresh fruit to buy less than one-quarter of one apple.

As noted in a recent Mother Jones report,18 94.1 million acres of corn was grown in the U.S. this year, along with 83 million acres of soybean. Yet prices for both of these commodities are currently at five-year lows, “perilously close to the cost of production.”

The sole reason why so much corn and soy is grown even though prices are so low is because these crops are subsidized.   Monsanto owns patents on a majority of the corn and soy planted and they lobby hard to ensure our taxes are lining Monsanto's own pockets.

The floor would come out from under's Monsanto's feet if the government wasn't sending our money to create false value for these GMOs.

About 30 to 40 percent of all corn grown is used for livestock feed and 5 percent is used to make HFCS. The remainder, as much as 65 percent, goes toward the making of ethanol fuel, not food. About half of the soybean crop also goes toward livestock feed.

Subsidizing Factory Farms Over Regenerative Farms Also Promotes Poor Health

The same can be said for meat and dairy production. The U.S. government subsidizes concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which not only have a destructive effect on the environment but also promote animal and human disease, including the scourge of antibiotic resistance.

According to the authors of the featured study,19 “better alignment of agricultural and nutritional policies may potentially improve population health,” and this, I believe, includes a shift toward subsidizing grass-fed and pastured meats rather than CAFO livestock.

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that the CAFO and monocrop factory farm models are backed by incredibly wealthy and powerful interests that have tremendous influence on government policies. For example, you’d think the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) exists to protect you against the vagaries of industry, but many of its actions and decisions speak to the contrary.  

The chemical and agricultural industries spend millions of dollars to lobby for regulations that are favorable to them, and there's a constantly revolving door between the agency and private corporations. Revolving doors also exist between private companies and just about every other government agency. And then there’s the political lobby, which through its wealth manages to influence career politicians to do their bidding at every turn.

Most Americans Raised on a Fattening Corn-Based Diet

The United States is the No. 1 per capita consumer of corn in the world. As expounded in books like “The Omnivore's Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, HFCS and other corn-derivatives work their way into nearly every kind of processed food on the market.

Unfortunately, since corn is a grain, it rapidly breaks down to sugar in your body and raises your risk for insulin resistance if regularly consumed. Elevated insulin levels in turn are linked to most chronic degenerative diseases, including everything from obesity and diabetes to premature aging.

Making matters worse, the vast majority of American-grown corn is also genetically engineered to produce Bt toxin (a pesticide that kills bugs by making their stomachs explode), which is then consumed by you.

Studies suggest that, contrary to industry assurances, this built-in Bt toxin survives the journey through your digestive system and can make you allergic to a wide range of substances. (This is in stark contrast to naturally produced Bt toxin which is rapidly broken down in the environment and never makes it to your stomach.)

A CNN article20 from 2007 puts Americans’ consumption of subsidized corn into even greater perspective. Todd Dawson, a plant biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, performed carbon tests on human hair to evaluate the dietary sources of the building blocks making up the human body.

When testing a strand of hair from CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he found that 69 percent of the carbon in Gupta’s hair originated from corn. And according to Dawson, that’s typical for Americans.

"We are what we eat with respect to carbon, for sure,” Dawson told CNN. “So if we eat a particular kind of food, and it has a particular kind of carbon in it, that's recorded in us, in our tissues, in our hair, in our fingernails, in the muscles ... We're like corn chips walking because we really have a very, very large fraction of corn in our diets, and we actually can't help it because it's an additive in so many of the foods we find on the market shelves ...

 I think where the danger comes in with corn is that much of the corn grown now in North America is going into making high-fructose corn syrup. So it's not that corn per se is bad, but it's the sweetener made from corn that gets into many of the foods that Americans are probably consuming too much of, and we now see that showing up as obesity and heart disease and potential for type 2 diabetes."

Europeans, on the other hand, eat far less processed foods, and as already noted, they consume far less corn-based sweeteners too. After spending three months in Italy, Dawson tested his own hair, and found it contained only 5 percent corn-based carbon.

Agricultural Policies Need an Overhaul   

Far from providing us with critical nutrition, U.S. agricultural policies contribute to the declining health of Americans and worsen the out-of-control obesity epidemic. Current farm subsidies bring you HFCS, processed oils high in trans fats and damaged omega-6 fats, fast food, junk food, corn-fed CAFO beef, environmentally-unfriendly monoculture and a host of other contributors to our unhealthy contemporary diet.

The subsidy program is severely broken, subsidizing junk food in one federal office while funding anti-obesity objectives in another. Besides being hypocritical, it’s an incredibly wasteful system. Worst of all, the farm bill creates a negative feedback loop that perpetuates the highly profitable standard American diet (SAD). In this way, the U.S. government is knowingly promoting and subsidizing obesity and chronic disease.

The time is ripe for change, and redesigning the system could help move us toward economic and nutritional recovery. If we're going to subsidize farmers, let's subsidize in a way that helps restore the health of American citizens and our land — programs that might just pay for themselves by the reduction in healthcare costs they bring about.

In 2011, Mark Bittman of The New York Times21 argued that subsidy money could easily be redirected toward helping smaller farmers to compete in the marketplace in a number of ways. For example, funds could be redirected toward:

  • Funding research and innovation in sustainable agriculture
  • Providing incentives to attract new farmers
  • Saving farmland from development
  • Assisting farmers who grow currently unsubsidized fruits and vegetables, while providing incentives for monoculture commodity farmers (corn, soy, wheat and rice) to convert some of their operations to more desirable foods
  • Leveling the playing field so that medium-sized farms can more favorably compete with agribusiness as suppliers for local supermarkets

How You Can Effect Positive Change

Remember though that one of the most effective ways you, as an individual, can promote positive change is by redirecting your food dollars toward locally grown foods, and foods grown in a sustainable and organic manner. By supporting your local family farms, you’re promoting a healthier, more sustainable and safer food system for everyone in your community. 

“Just Say No” to junk food producers by not buying their wares and return to a diet of real, whole foods — fresh organic produce, meats from animals raised sustainably on pasture and raw organic milk and eggs. Eating this way will increase your chances of living a long, healthy life, whereas the typical American diet may set you on the path toward obesity and chronic disease.