The U.S. government is indirectly contributing to the nation’s obesity problem, according to one consumer advocacy group, by providing billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies that help produce junk food.
Apples to Twinkies 2012, a recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave out $18.2 billion from 1995 to 2011 to subsidize four common food additives: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils (hydrogenated vegetable oil). These additives “provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products,” the research group reported.
If the average yearly amount of these subsidies (about $1 billion) over the 17-year study period were awarded to America’s 141 million taxpayers, it would come to $7.58 per person—enough for each of them to buy 21 Twinkies.
When it comes to healthy snacks, the USDA has spent only $637 million subsidizing apples since 1995. That comes out to 27 cents per taxpayer per year, which would buy less than half of one Red Delicious apple.
“At a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, it’s absurd that we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,” said Anne Ohliger, Los Angeles campaign director for the California branch of the U.S. PIRG.
The consumer group says childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five kids aged 6 to 11 now classified as obese.