Subsidised food is cheaper but could make people unhealthier, according to study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Subsidised food commodities included in the study were corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock. (© iStock.com)
Subsidised food commodities included in the study were corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock. (© iStock.com)

Related tags: Nutrition

Consumption of cheaper food made from subsidised ingredients has been linked to chronic cardiovascular risks in the US population, a study has shown. 

Whilst the news that unhealthy food is bad for your health is unsurprising, the revelation that food subsidies in the US, which are meant to promote food availability, also appear to have a negative effect on heath.

Analysis of survey data from 2001 to 2006 collected information from 10,308 participants, who were asked to recall dietary habits in a single day.

Results indicated that those with the highest subsidy scores had a 37% higher risk of being obese; compared with those with the lowest.

In addition, these subjects also demonstrated a 41% higher risk of having excess fat around the belly, as well as 14% higher risk of having high cholesterol levels.

However the researchers could find no link between subsidy score and blood pressure.

The study found that overall, 56.2% of calories consumed came from the major subsidised food commodities.

“Although eating fewer subsidised foods will not eradicate obesity, our results suggest that individuals whose diets consist of a lower proportion of subsidised foods have a lower probability of being obese,”​ the authors noted.

“Nutritional guidelines are focused on the population's needs for healthier foods, but to date food and agricultural policies that influence food production and availability have not yet done the same.”

Subsidised food commodities included in the study were corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock.

Study limitations

obesity
Risk factors outside of the study's control included physical activity, poverty and food insecurity.(© iStock.com)

The study did recognise limitations in its methodology, primarily the lack of control in risk factors. These included smoking, physical activity, poverty and food insecurity.

The team thought this may have increased across subsidy score quartiles, suggesting other relevant risk factors were in play and outside of their control.

Out of the 10,308 subjects, who made up the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, approximately half were men, with an average age of around 40.

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta measured body mass index (BMI), ratio of waist circumference to height, inflammation markers, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels to assess cardiometabolic risk.

The commodities were given a value between 0.0-1.0. 0.0 indicated 0% of total calories from subsidised commodities and 1.0 indicated 100% of total calories from subsidised commodities.

Good and bad of subsidising

wheat crop farming agriculture grain
Farm policies may not contribute to obesity and that their elimination might increase caloric intake in the US.(© iStock.com)

The study appears to be the first to examine the link between subsidised food intake and cardiometabolic health in individuals.

More evidence of this nature may help to more accurately align agricultural policies with nutrition and health.

Links have already been noted between agricultural policy and obesity and cardiometabolic risk, which have led to calls for elimination of agricultural subsidies or at least a shift​to include 'healthier' crops.

However, it has also been raised that farm policies do not contribute to obesity and that their elimination would actually increase caloric intake in the US​.

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine

Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2410

“More calories consumed from subsidized food commodities linked to cardiometabolic risks.”

Authors: Karen Siegel et al.

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1 comment

understand statistics!

Posted by Dieter E,

a perfect study, well reported. HOWEVER, any statistical signuficance does newer prove the inherent cause of the effect. And again, the subsidising is never the real cause of the effects observed.
AND a subsidiary comment: there are not at all any 'healthier' crops! Any food is healthy! It is solely the consumption which causes those effects, falsely attributed to a given food item.

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