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Childhood Obesity in MA: "Cheap Food Policy" Partly to Blame?

March 11, 2010

BOSTON - Childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high, and according to a new article in "Health Affairs Journal," the nation's so-called "cheap food policy" has played a significant role. As First Lady Michelle Obama launches a national initiative to address childhood obesity, the article states the decades-old policy has contributed to the broken U.S. food system, where unhealthy foods are both cheaper and more available than healthy foods.

Article author David Wallinga, director of the Food and Health program, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, makes the case that U.S. agriculture policy promotes the overproduction of certain commodities, like corn and soybeans, which are used to manufacture calorie-rich and nutrient-poor - but inexpensive - snacks.

"We have a two-fer: We can both do a better job of feeding the hungry population, and also of getting them healthier foods. If we do that, we're going to make the whole population healthier - and less hungry, as well."

Policy recommendations include reducing commodity crop oversupply and supporting farmers. Wallinga says we need to enlist farmers as allies in the fight against child obesity, by rewarding production of more healthy fruits and vegetables. And although it won't be easy to change the food system, he thinks it can be done in a way that benefits farmers, as well as consumers.

"In a way that farmers can make a living at it; in a way that gets those fruits and vegetables into schools at an affordable price and produces them in a way that's not using a lot of fossil fuels or water."

Congressional leaders have already launched public discussions on those topics in preparation for the next Farm Bill, due in 2012.

The "Health Affairs Journal" article is available at http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/29/3/405.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA