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The High-fat, High-Calorie Subsidy

corn field

Corn fields that become high-fructose corn syrup. Wheat and rice stripped of its fiber. Hamburgers and milk shakes.

A new study has found that people who eat a lot of foods derived from the crops most heavily subsidized by the government—wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, soybeans, dairy, and livestock—have a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

It’s not that these foods are all bad in their natural forms. But a large portion of the subsidized commodities are converted into foods on the USDA’s naughty list: high-fat meat and dairy products, refined grains, high-calorie juices and soft drinks, and processed and packaged foods.

"Our hope is that this study shines a light on the disconnect between federal nutritional recommendations and food commodity subsidies, which may lead to collaborative research and action," says lead author K.M. Venkat Narayan, professor of epidemiology and medicine and director of the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center. "One potential policy lever may be to shift agricultural subsidies toward the production of healthier crops such as fruits and vegetables."

Eating fewer subsidized foods alone will not eradicate obesity, but people who eat fewer subsidized foods can reduce their risk of obesity.

On average, 56 percent of calories eaten come from subsidized foods, and the higher the percentage, the worse the person’s cardiometabolic health profile. The study is available in the July 5 online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

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