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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Food Policy and Health Policy

Ezra Klein has some interesting thoughts on our current food policies.  He writes,

To put some of the recent conversations over chronic disease and diet into economic perspective, consider the hackneyed statistic that we spend more on health care than on food. The stat is true: We spent $2.26 trillion on health care in 2007 and about $845 billion on food. Those numbers are not strangers to one another. To some degree, we spend more on health care because we spend less on food. Cheap food tends to be nutritionally hollow and purchased in spectacular quantity. Neither quality makes HoHos friendly to arterial health.

But the sobering corollary to talking about the public costs of bad diet is that we don't really know how to change the way people eat. Diansheng Dong and Biing Hwan-Lin recently conducted a study for the USDA's economic research service modeling the likely impact of a 10 percent discount on fruits and vegetables for low-income Americans (defined here as incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line). They concluded that the policy, which would cost $580 million, would increase the consumption of fruits by 2.1-to-5.2 percent and vegetables by 2.1-to-4.9 percent. It's not nothing, but it's not much.  . . .

And cost is just one barrier. Many people lack access to decent produce. . . .  More than that, it's foolish to imagine that poor eating habits are the simple outcome of inadequate nutritional education, incomes, and access. . . .   Cooking takes time, and when you're working multiple jobs and feeding a family, the undeniable ease of fast food is a powerful lure. And fast food is tasty!  . . .  So this isn't a question with easy answers. Even if you could get the political system to focus on it, the policies are not obvious and the payoff would not be quick.

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