07.10.2022

US food policy is not yielding results

Since the American Heart Association (AHA) linked saturated fat intake to heart disease in 1961, government officials and politicians have launched a campaign to support low-fat foods.

Despite this, obesity is growing at an alarming rate, and cardiovascular disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States, writes José Niño, Venezuelan-American political activist, in an article published on the website of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

US Presidential Administration Donald Trump announced the continuation of the nutrition policy that was adopted under Barack Obama.

This new policy includes mandatory calorie labeling on restaurant menus and new “nutrition facts” on food packaging.

American food policies not only created barriers to entry into certain sectors of the food industry and damaged consumer welfare, but also encouraged businesses to pursue policies that fit their interests.

This creates a scenario of institutional inertia. Scientists first publish results that support the agenda of an entrenched interest group. The government then rewards manufacturers that follow these rules by providing them with subsidies and expressing approval.

Since the US began to pursue food policy more actively in 1961, obesity rates among American men and women have risen significantly. Of course, this does not prove a causal relationship, but this suggests that government intervention did not help reduce obesity, Nino notes.

The trend of overweight, obesity and extreme obesity among men and women aged 20-74 years: USA, from 1960-1962 to 2013-2014. Source: National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Many experts talk about the benefits of low fat foods and the benefits of reducing salt intake. However, researchers Nina Teicholz and James Dinicolantonio argue that such a diet can be harmful.

Similarly, the designation of calorie content does not significantly change the behavior of people when choosing food. As Julie Downs, lead author of The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), noted in 2016, listing calories in the menu “does not really or does not affect the way people order.”

In these cases, incentives are important, Nino says. When the government no longer dictates food policies, civil society organizations and businesses will fill this vacuum by providing consumers with the information and resources they need to make informed nutrition decisions.

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