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This is Why You’re Fat

Suzanne Merkelson
United Re:public / News Report
Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
As Reuters reports, the food and beverage industry has been relentless in Washington lately, more than doubling their spending in Washington during the past three years, completely outpacing public interest groups looking out for children’s health.
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Nearly half of all Americans will be obese by 2030, researchers reported at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Weight of the Nation conference in Washington earlier this month. 42 percent of us are projected to be obese, placing a huge strain on our already compromised health care system. Brian Fung at The Atlantic points out that the healthcare costs of obesity — $550 billion over the next two decades — is more than the U.S. Department of Defense asked for in its fiscal year 2013 budget.

There are a lot of reasons — chemical, psychological, environmental — for why people are obese. But explaining societal obesity means looking at what the food system is providing for us to eat — and how government policies might promote certain foods over others.

“In the political arena, one side is winning the war on child obesity,” a new Reuters report on the food lobby begins. “The side with the fattest wallets.”

That’s entirely true. As Reuters reports, the food and beverage industry has been relentless in Washington lately, more than doubling their spending in Washington during the past three years, completely outpacing public interest groups looking out for children’s health:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, widely regarded as the lead lobbying force for healthier food, spent about $70,000 lobbying last year — roughly what those opposing the stricter guidelines spent every 13 hours, the Reuters analysis showed.

The food and beverage industry has definitely outsmarted the federal government when it comes to targeting children: Efforts to tax soda have been crushed; 16 states have been persuaded to prohibit lawsuits over fatty foods; Congress has even declared pizza a vegetable, for Pete’s sake. The Boston Globe notes that young people fighting obesity have little chance against the food and beverage industry who “have waged an unprecedented war against even voluntary guidelines.” Even supposed Obama allies, like former White House communications director Anita Dunn, have been hired by the industry to lobby against obesity initiatives.

Obesity is complicated enough on an individual scale, societal obesity even more so. Certainly, we can blame marketing sugary cereals and 2,000-calorie burgers to kids for part of the obesity epidemic. But we can trace the roots of this problem even further, back to the 1930s, when taxpayers started subsidizing American agriculture.

The farm bill, first enacted during the Great Depression and renewed every five years or so, includes food stamps for the poor, international food aid, conservation programs, and subsidies for farmers, which lets them ride out bad crop years and compete with farmers in other countries. Critics have long derided subsidies, noting that they promote the growing of crops like corn and rice over others, like vegetables. The farm bill is up for reauthorization this year.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is one of those critics. He traced the massive amounts of subsidies received by corn growers  – $73.8 billion over 15 years — to the rise of high fructose corn syrup, the fattening substance that Vice President Joe Biden said was more dangerous to Americans than terrorism. Variations of the farm bill over the years have helped make “Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water,” Pollan wrote in the New York Times during the last debate over the farm bill, in 2007. The 2007 version of the farm bill expires in September.

The 2012 Farm Bill, which recently passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee, seems to reflect some of those criticisms. As part of the federal government’s effort to cut spending, the Ag Committee proposed a massive overhaul of the current subsidy program. The Senate bill eliminates $5 billion of annual subsidies in the form of direct payments and counter-cyclical payments to farmers, as well as the Average Crop Revenue Election Program, which started with the last farm bill. This might sound like Congress is actually listening to the concerns of food activists.

But the Senate proposal continues to give away tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to Big Agribusiness, at the expense of programs benefiting conservation, nutrition, and new farmers. The food blog Civil Eats calls the proposal an “all-you-can-eat-buffet for the subsidy lobby“:

[L]egislators created an expensive new entitlement program (called “shallow loss”) that guarantees nearly 90 percent of the income of farm businesses already enjoying record profits. It also leaves untouched a bloated $9-billion-a-year crop insurance program that pays about 60 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums, no matter how large the farm, and sends billions to crop insurance companies and their agents.

Most of the benefits of these proposed programs would flow to the big five commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, rice, and wheat) that provide feed for livestock, raw material for processed food and corn ethanol fuel for our cars.

There’s no data available yet on lobbying on the new farm bill, but by taking a look at OpenSecrets’ database on the 2007 bill, provides a look at who might be involved this time around: Big Agriculture — which spends millions lobbying the federal government on food policy. The agriculture biotechnology giant Monsanto spent $8.8 million on lobbying in 2008, much of it on 22 specific issues contained within the farm bill (which was renewed a bit late). Other big names shelling out big cash on the farm bill are Verizon, the American Farm Bureau, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Koch Industries, the American Beverage Association, and, naturally, the American Corn Growers Association.

As the 2012 farm bill heads from the Senate to the House of Representatives, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t just a farm bill — it’s a food bill, helping to dictate what kinds of food people can afford. Not everyone on the House Agriculture Committee sees it that way: last month, Republicans on the committee voted to cut $33 billion from food stamps while keeping farm subsidies intact. With recent high crop prices and a record of $136.3 billion in farm exports in 2011, big farmers growing corn and soy don’t really need the help (even the powerful Iowa Farm Bureau agrees). Instead, the farm bill should work on making healthy foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, available at lower prices. Because if there’s one thing that the country can’t afford, it’s having a population that’s half obese.

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ABOUT Suzanne Merkelson

Suzanne Merkelson is the Associate Web Editor for United Republic, where she curates and comments on the day’s top money-in-politics news. She previously produced web content for Foreign Policy magazine and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Foreign Policy, and The Atlantic, among others.

Determine your daily caloric

Determine your daily caloric intake versus your daily requirements. This is best done with the help of a medical professional, but you can get a basic idea by using one of the calculators. Thanks a lot.


If you find yourself in an

If you find yourself in an argument and anger seems to be ruling you or the other person, then tell your friend/partner that it will just have to be handled when the two of you have cooled off and walk away. This saves you from saying or doing hurtful things in the heat of the moment. Thanks.

GMOs are actually quite a

GMOs are actually quite a good metaphor for this whole industry. Early on during the development of genetically modified food it was understood that consumers would not appreciate buying "frankenfoods". The industry was faced with two options. On one side it could get consumers acquainted to GMOs but that would have cost millions and then some. The other side was a bit riskier but nearly free : SHUT UP and claim you don't know anything about it. Sell the products as if they were natural and then claim consumers actually accepted it. Lobby hard and bribe officials along the way so they look the other way.

If it sounds like fraud it's because it is. A huge, massive, completely conscious fraud. Having received numerous responses from the industry claiming they know nothing about the issue of GMOs or foods that contain them, it's clear they stand to loose billions by coming out clean. It also becomes painfully obvious what they will do with any other issue : lie, distort, cheat and put on the market products that have nothing to do with what the client wants. Profit is king. Client satisfaction is only there for PR reasons.

And then the farm bill. It isn't meant to help farmers although it's marketed as such - it's meant to kick small farmers out of business for being honest and selling ** healthy ** foods - two qualities this industry simply can't do since they'd have to acquiesce about all the bad business they've been doing as of late. It really is simple. SHUT UP. If it's good for profits then who cares what are the consequences?

How would a consumer oriented

How would a consumer oriented capitalist system continue to prosper? It uses every means possible to entice, deceive, decrease transparency of product and make it our fault when we have negative consequences. You can't get the badvertising out of your face/ear. And, perhaps most importantly, the laws are bought to make it all the more difficult to be any kind of an educated consumer. If unchecked I know where this kind of system will go. I think most of us here do. But many people use the instant gratification offered by the push for consumerism and buy into "you deserve a break today" mentality. People at the bottom who are emptying of all hope cling to what they can that gives any relief.

Yes, the food in this country

Yes, the food in this country is officially garbage. It's not just obvious things like fat. People lived to be in their 90s eating bacon, pork chops, butter and cream for centuries. Olive oil is very good for you. Sugar, not so much, but most people get that. GMO in our food is ubiquitous and potentially deadly (I say only "potentially" because it can't hurt you if you don't eat it and the real horror show begans after a few generations.)

According to Dr. Wm. Davis, Author of 'Wheat Belly', the "introduction of mutant, high-yield dwarf wheat in the 1960s and the misguided national crusade against fat and cholesterol that caught steam in the 1980s have conspired together as a disastrous duo to produce an epidemic of obesity and heart disease..." and "something happened to wheat in the 1970s during the efforts to generate a high-yield strain that required less fertilizer to make a 24-inch, rather than a 48-inch, stalk. Multiple other changes occurred, including changes in the structure of gluten, changes in wheat germ agglutinin, changes in alpha amylase (responsible for wheat allergy) . . . to name a few. Now it's all about gluten-free this and that...a couple of decades ago no one had any reason to even know what gluten was and now it's an epidemic.

He opines in his blog article, WHEAT IS AN OPIATE, "But the “high” of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry. " Food addictions turn out to be food allergies. I was diagnosed with wheat allergy 12 years ago, also cow's milk and sugars. I have fibromyalgia. Just 3 or 4 days without wheat caused my pain levels to drop and eventually disappear. I cannot allow bread, cakes or cookies to be brought into my house even now as the cravings are so strong!

I suggest anyone who eats or feeds others--especially one who is ill--read his blog and his book. It's a real eye-opener even for a life-long nutritional researcher like myself.

Is anyone else losing faith

Is anyone else losing faith in our institutions?

Norman Allen's picture

When one is poor, ignorant,

When one is poor, ignorant, and the only affordable food is what is advertised constantly, what do you expect? Lean, choosy, intelligent diet or fat, easy, and dumb diet?

the devil made me eat those

the devil made me eat those fries it is not my fault nothing bad is my fault

It should be noted that well

It should be noted that well over 60% os subsidities go to large corporate farms--corporate welfare! Most all of subsidizes crops are now genetically modified, making products like high fructose corn syrup even worse.

According to former Surgeon

According to former Surgeon General Kessler's book (The End of Overeating) , we're fat because human brains are wired to crave fat, sugar and salt. Food manufacturers found this out in the 1980's and started really loading it in their products.

Likewise, chain restaurants, which can produce servings which exceed a person's entire daily need for calories.

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