Institute Of Medicine Debunks Myth Linking Farm Policies to Obesity

May 31, 2011

The absurdity arguably began one chilly Monday night in December 2003.  ABC aired a “news” program linking farm policy to the nation’s obesity epidemic.  At the time, farmers cried foul and some even threatened to boycott the network.

The notion that U.S. commodities were too cheap and that, if Congress super-sized subsidies for asparagus and apples, then Americans would have double helpings of veggies instead of double fudge sundaes seemed laughable.

Yet this train of thought picked up steam and served as a backdrop to the 2008 Farm Bill.

Now, more than seven years later—as America’s economic woes make affordable food a beacon of hope instead of a sin—it looks like the silliness has finally run its course.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), while looking for ways to prevent obesity, weighed in last week and is steering this conversation back to the realm of the real world.  In fact, an IOM committee found little support for the notion that government policy fuels bulging waistlines.

Instead, the committee, chaired by former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, heard from a number of experts who questioned the linkage.

According to a news story about the proceedings, Erik Olsen, senior vice president of government policy and programs at Feeding America, the nation’s largest food assistance organization, said that if you make strong accusations about such a relationship, “people will want really strong evidence.”  When asked if such evidence between farm programs and obesity exists, Olsen replied, “I have not seen anything to establish that.”

Of course, some farm policy opponents will likely to continue to push this debunked thesis—that is, whenever they’re not telling Congress the exact opposite by claiming that farm policy has made commodity prices too high.

Keeping track of the arguments against farm policy can be like watching a yo-yo.