Friedman School of Tufts: Policy Points

07/19/04

While much of the discussion in the media about obesity has focused on nutrition policies, such as dietary guidelines, or a debate about individual responsibility, a recent article in the Annual Review of Nutrition takes a different tack. Agricultural and economic policies, combined with food industrialization and overproduction, argues the paper, must be studied in order to address the obesity pandemic. A failure to examine this supply side, says author Jim Tillotson, professor of food policy and international business at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, will limit the future success of policy and public health initiatives.

In this comprehensive article, Tillotson reports that agricultural and economic policies fostered cheaper production of the food supply and the industrialization of the food supply helped to reduce nutrient deficiencies. In the 1960s, however, nutrition and agriculture policy began to split from their common goals of providing enough healthy food, cheaply. Nutrition policy began to recognize issues created by having too much fat and sugar in the diet while agricultural and economic policies roared along, focused on more production and, hence, more sales.

"Our agricultural policies and food companies responded so well to the cry for more nutritious and less expensive food in the 1950s that we have become ensnared in our success," said Tillotson. "Now, we live in a land of excess food and we have become accustomed to it. Only by carefully assessing, reviewing and changing agricultural and economic policies, such as subsidies, will we be able to turn the tide. Food commercialization efforts must also be altered so that companies can succeed without contributing to the obesity pandemic."

"Agricultural and economic policies must be integrated with nutrition and public health policies," he continued. "The food seller's interest and the buyer's interest are increasingly at odds. Entrenched agricultural and economic policies now serve as formidable impediments to the success of new public health policies."

Lastly, Tillotson noted that there's no indication that proposals to tax foods high in sugar or fat, or control advertising to children, will work alone to combat obesity. "Could more progress be made by framing the issues as the conflicting objectives of long-established agricultural, industrial and economic policies versus needed new health policies requiring resolution at a societal level, prior to deciding on remedial actions?"

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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