New Report Links Agricultural Subsidies to Childhood Obesity

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Published September 22, 2011

| FoxNews.com

Michelle Obama, who is campaigning to reduce childhood obesity, may want to blame the federal government for the growing problem. 

That's according to a new study by a public interest group, which points to ill-chosen agricultural subsidies for expanding waistlines.

A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or U.S. PIRG, titled “Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food” found that between 1995 and 2010, the U.S. has spent more than $260 billion on agricultural subsidies.

But while $262 million has gone to apples -- the only fruit or vegetable with a significant subsidy -- nearly $17 billion has spent on four common food additives -- corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils -- known to contribute to weight gain. The group says the taxpayer contribution amounts to 19 Twinkies per taxpayer every year.

And speaking of Twinkies, the report says that of their 37 ingredients, at least 14 of them are made with federal subsidies.

“At a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, it’s absurd that we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,” said Mike Russo, a policy analyst for U.S. PIRG. “It’s absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.”

The report notes that one in five children ages 6 to 11 are now obese, a rate that has tripled over the last three decades.

“These increases in obesity rates will translate into kids who are at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes, undermining the health of our country and driving up medical costs by hundreds of billions of dollars,” the report reads.

But Mace Thornton, a spokesman for the American Farm Bureau, said the report shows a “lack of understanding behind the farm program.”

“If the point of the study is to identify farm programs as a villain for childhood obesity, there are a heck of a lot more black cats in the room than farm programs,” he said. “Even if farm program payments are cut, junk food isn’t going to go away. Parental guidance has to come into play.

The report arrives in the wake of renewed attention on America’s eating habits. The first lady has made reducing childhood obesity the centerpiece of her agenda. And government subsidies for farmers is coming under scrutiny as a super committee in Congress tries to find at least $1.2 trillion in savings.

Next year, Congress renews a massive farm bill, as it does every five years, and farmers are already fighting to limit cuts in agriculture spending.

Federal payments to farmers are expected to fall to about $10.6 billion this year, compared with $24.4 billion in 2004, according to the USDA.

But the report is putting pressure on Congress to make more changes.

“At a time when government spending is coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities straight,” Russo said.

The report claims that without significant policy changes, half of all Americans will be obese by 2030, leading to an additional $66 billion spent per year in medical costs

The Corn Refiners Association noted that less than 3.5 percent of the U.S. corn supply is used to make high fructose corn syrup.

“Americans are consuming more calories from all types of foods today than what was consumed 30 years ago,” the group said in statement to FoxNews.com. “And we expend less energy to burn the extra calories.”

The group pointed to a 2009 study by the USDA that showed Americans have increased their total caloric intake on a per capita basis from 2,172 calories per day in 1970 to 2,775 in 2007 -- an additional 603 calories. Of that number, 299 calories were from added fats, 194 from flour and cereal produces and 57 from added sugars.

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