America has a growing problem, or problems, but let’s focus on how big we are. Not in land or power, but in the physical size of our people. America is by far the fattest country. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 31% of Americans are at a healthy weight. Out of the rest of America: 33% are considered to be overweight, 36% are considered obese, and 6% are considered extremely obese. A ridiculous 75% of America is not considered to be at their ideal healthy weight. Now of course there are flaws with the system for measuring obesity levels and it is not a 100% accurate measure, but even if it was 10% off (which is extremely unlikely), 65% of people are still not at a healthy weight.
What is it that makes America so much heavier than other nations? Is it our lifestyle, our diets, how much we exercise? While these things very likely all play a role in the obesity problem, I believe there is something else at the root of the problem. The government chooses to subsidize unhealthy food options, making unhealthy foods much cheaper. Since they are cheaper people are more inclined to buy them.
The agriculture products the government recommends we eat and the ones they subsidize are very different. The picture to the right shows that the government recommends having a diet of mostly vegetables and grains, but that is not the way they disperse their subsidies. According to this article, between 1995 and 2005, over 73% of agricultural subsidies went to meat and dairy, 13% went towards grains, and less than one half of a percent went towards fruits and vegetables (Rampell). This just shows how little subsidies are being put towards healthy foods that we should be eating more of- making them more expensive. The subsidies are different, but does the evidence actually back that they are more expensive?
A study was done at the University of Washington to compare the prices of nutrient dense foods (healthy foods) to unhealthy food options. To compare the two, they looked at a range of 370 food items and averaged the cost 1,000 calories. The researches found that unhealthy food options cost an average of $1.76/1000 calories while healthy food options cost an average of $18.16/1000 calories. That is an incredible difference and it is understandable why many people choose to purchase more unhealthy food options. Healthy food options are not only higher priced, but they also are much more susceptible to inflation rates. The graph below shows how the prices of certain types of foods were affected over time. It is easy to see that healthy food options increased in price much more drastically than unhealthy ones. Unhealthy food options even went down in price at one point while the price of healthy foods rose drastically.
So far the following points have been concluded: America is very obese, the government unproportionally subsidizes unhealthy food options, and unhealthy food is much cheaper than healthy food. From what I currently know, the evidence backs the theory that unhealthy food is cheap because the government mostly subsidizes products used in unhealthy foods. But does this mean that America is obese because of the products the government subsidizes?
There are many reasons for obesity, subsidies are not the only cause, but I do believe they are a major influence. It does not seem to have been yet proven by a scientist that there is a casual link between obesity rates and government subsidies, but based on the research I have conducted, there does seem to be a strong correlation and a mechanism to explain this correlation. The mechanism is that people are more inclined to try and get the best value for their money, and since calories are much cheaper per dollar for unhealthy foods it is likely they will purchase mostly unhealthier foods. With a correlation and mechanism, I believe that the governments choice to disproportionately subsidize products that are used for unhealthy foods over subsidizing healthy food options is a major cause of the obesity problem in America.
After completing this blog, I came across this article. Basically the government did a huge study and came to the conclusion that healthy food options are not actually more expensive than junk foods. It is a counterargument to the points I made but I still find my conclusion to be a valid explanation.