The Physicians Committee

Meat and Dairy Subsidies Make America Sick

  July 22, 2016    

Government food subsidies—including meat and dairy products—are damaging the health of Americans, according to a study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It’s a problem we’re working to fix.

The first study, conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, found that “current federal agricultural subsidies focus on financing production of food commodities, a large portion of which are converted into high-fat meat and dairy products” and other items that increase the risk for cardiometabolic risks in American adults.

Researchers followed 10,308 American participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and measured the percentage of calories consumed from subsidized foods, body weight, blood pressure, inflammation measures, and cholesterol levels. Those who consumed the most subsidized foods, including high-fat meat and dairy products, were 41 percent and 21 percent more likely to be overweight and have elevated blood sugars, respectively.

It gets worse. Subsidized meat and dairy products can also lead to early death. In a related study, Harvard researchers found that eating more saturated fat—found primarily in animal products—was associated with increased risk of death.

Children’s health also pays a toll when meat and dairy producers profit. Last summer, our report “Who’s Making Money from Overweight Kids?” took a look at subsidies in school lunches. 

We found that in 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid more than $500 million to 62 meat and dairy producers for beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, dairy, eggs, and lamb that ended up in school meals.

So where are the subsidies for disease-fighting fruits and vegetable? They receive just a fraction of what goes to meat and dairy products. Maybe that’s why new USDA findings show that Americans are eating fewer fruits and vegetables than they were a decade ago.  

Congress is already starting discussions on the 2018 Farm Bill—which oversees subsidies—and we’ll be working to encourage the federal government to alter agricultural policies to address America’s diet-related chronic disease epidemics. 


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