Subsidizing Fat

Those promoting efforts to boost health eating among the nation’s poor should take heed to this chart which originally appeared in 2007 on the Web site for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM):

pyramid

Often, proponents of healthier eating lobby government to nudge individuals into consuming healthier foods and beverages by taxing unhealthy products. These same people decry the fact that, in general, less healthy foods like burgers are often cheaper than healthier choices like salads and fruit.

The chart seems to show part of the reason: government subsidies of meat and dairy. As the PCRM site notes:

By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease.

By subsidizing these products, the cost to consumers is less. It then becomes an easier financial decision for consumers to choose the unhealthy over the healthy — especially if they are poorer consumers. So it seems that government meddling is already partly to blame for nudging individuals into less healthy eating choices.

Not to condone this type of paternalism, but instead of adding to the cost of unhealthy foods by taxing them, wouldn’t it just be easier to end the subsidies? But then many politicians would lose a valuable constituency: the dairy farmers. Oh, what a conundrum the tangling web of government meddling has weaved.

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