Today I reviewed an article on USA food and agriculture policy and its relation to childhood obesity. It was written by David Wallinga. A few points were interesting and unexpected enough to justify a word here. However, the article was published in 2010.
I am summarizing some of his main points with some risk of error on my part. Dr. Wallinga first makes note of the change in the amount of calories available for consumption per consumer after 1970. The additional calorie amount is between 300 and 600 - similar to the amount reported in other studies. He also tells which macronutrients are responsible for what percent of the increase. For example, added fats contribute 24% and refined grains account for 46%. He talks about corn sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. The United States is the greatest producer of corn and we keep 80% of that yield for ourselves. Children are consuming a lot of calories from sugar sweetened beverages, as you know. [the purpose of his article is to make a case for changing the food system to prevent childhood obesity] He discusses how the calorie increase can be linked to agricultural policies. In his historical review, he mentions that in the early 20th century it was learned that if children were given foods that were high in added fats and sugars, they grew. When malnutrition was a concern, this was great news. Of course, we did not know that these same items would be implicated in obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
The government encouraged farmers to grow certain commodity crops, believing we could nourish our own country and sell our product (or donate) to save the world. The crops are corn, rice, wheat, milk, cotton and soybeans. Our farmers did a great job meeting the governments expectations. In fact, we were soon over producing and this caused prices to drop. This was not so good for farmers but great for food producers! It is important to note that over production and low prices, which contributed to our problems, occurred BEFORE subsidies.
For awhile, the government attempted to manage the commodity supply, but these measures disappeared after 1996. Dr. Wallinga does not argue for changes in subsidies or lessened support for farmers as he feels that would drive them away when they are already scarce. Their livelihoods are based on the system we set up. He does suggest that Farm Bill 2012 support existing and new farmers in infrastructure, training, and financing so that they can add fruits and vegetables to their production. Past bills have prohibited commodity farmers from growing other crops, which as you might agree, is ridiculous. If we change the demand and offer assistance, their is every reason to believe that the farmers can once again meet consumer needs.
Which speaks to another another thing I did not know which is very important. We currently do not possess the capacity to provide the number of fruits and vegetables that Americans are directed to consume on a daily basis. In other words, it is not possible for all of us to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day without importing produce!
There are many other interesting points of information, explanation and recommendation in the article. I want to end with this statement from p 408, "Obesity is a systems problem, inexorably related to the equally complex and problematic food system."
I don't have permission to post the full article I read, which I retrieved from the journal Health Affairs (March 2010, but here is the abstract with citation information. Additionally, the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, of which Dr. Wallinga is the director, has a website, blog and up to date information. Dr. Wallinga might even send you the article if you email him. You can access the website and email here.
I know that my next step will be to learn more about the current version and status of Farm Bill 2012 - which has hit some snags in Congress.
There are just never enough hours in any given day for me to read everything I need to read.