New Johns Hopkins study says farm policies impact public health

US farm spending should make sense. Based on publicly available data, AFA estimates that only 8% of federal farm spending goes toward producing fiber-rich foods, even when federal nutritional guidelines urge us to fill 80% of our plates with these same foods. And only 3% of farm spending goes to producing fruits and veggies, even when nutritional guidelines urge us to fill 50% of our plates with them.1 2

Meanwhile, nutritional guidelines urge us to minimize our intake of foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol because of their linkage to the top disease killers in our country, yet more than 65% of farm spending goes toward producing foods which are high in saturated fats and cholesterol writ large.

We want to see a US ag system where USDA prioritizes spending in ways that better reflect USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But this assumes that agricultural spending significantly influences public health. Is there science behind this idea? 

A December 2021 study out of John Hopkins School of Medicine answers affirmatively.3 This analysis reviews several studies on or relating to the same topic, saying that 

As agricultural policy dictates production, government-issued payments directly encourage overproduction of commodities that are the basic ingredients of processed, energy-dense foods.  

Food policy, health, and societal factors are inextricably linked, and disproportionately affect low-income individuals who are most sensitive to the cost of healthy foods.

Rerouting government subsidies towards fruit and vegetable programs would stimulate production, ameliorating our current production deficit, and ideally helping to promote their consumption.

E Michos et al.

These authors acknowledge that ag policy does in fact dictate food production to such a degree that prioritizing more fiber rich foods in federal ag spending would help promote consumption downstream.

And not surprisingly, the authors recommend:

1) shifting agricultural subsidies towards fruits and vegetables, 

2) revamping NSLP, SNAP, and WIC to focus on providing plant-based options to the individuals who utilize these programs, and 

3) creating comprehensive public initiatives to improve our national advertising and dietary culture.

E Michos et al.

Number one on their list is also number one on AFA’s list.