State of Nation

What is that new craze sweeping the nation? Diabetes. Why? Because we are buying this disease. Perhaps they should start selling it on Amazon. They could create a little Christmas basket to be delivered straight to your door including foods containing high fructose corn syrup, a few video games, and insulin pump and a gift certificate for the doctor of your choice. Consider this:

Back in 1995, about 4.5 percent of adults in the U.S. had been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2010, the prevalence had zoomed to 8.2 percent. From –

Then consider this:

Between 1995 and 2011, American taxpayers spent over $277 billion in agricultural subsidies. Most subsidies went to the country’s largest farming operations, mainly to grow just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. 

Most of these commodity crops are not simply eaten as-is.  Among other uses, food manufacturers process them into additives like high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products.  Thus, Americans’ tax dollars directly subsidize junk food ingredients- from –

Diabetes by state in 1995 – from NPR

Key Findings:

  • Between 1995 and 2011, $18.2 billion in tax dollars subsidized four common junk food additives – corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils (which are processed further into hydrogenated vegetable oils).
  • Healthier agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies.
  • Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $637 million subsidizing apples, which is one of the few fresh fruits or vegetables that have a significant federal subsidy.
  • If subsidies for junk food ingredients went directly to taxpayers to allow them to purchase food, each of America’s 141 million taxpayers would receive $7.58 to spend on junk food and 27 cents to spend on apples each year – enough to buy 21 Twinkies but just half of one Red Delicious apple.
  • The $18.2 billion in subsidies for junk food ingredients that taxpayers have shelled out since 1995 is enough to buy 49 billion Twinkies. Placed end to end, they would circle the globe 125 times.
  • Since 1995, the lion’s share of agricultural subsidies has gone to a very small number of large operations – 75% of subsidies go to just 3.8% of U.S. farmers.

Diabetes by state 2010 – from NPR

What about confounding factors? you might ask.

Food desert map

Since I work in what really amounts to a “food desert”, they have been high on my list as a suspect for the rise in diet related issues. Turns out food desert do not necessarily equate to a rise in diabetes. Income inequity is much more indicative. That is not to say that food deserts are related to income inequities, but it does indicate that even if you are poor in a place where good food is bountiful, you are less likely to buy it because the price is not competitive.

Income inequity map for 2006

Researchers wanted to find out what happens when competitively priced fresh fruits and vegetables are introduced into a food desert community. So they looked at Piety Hill of Detroit, where most residents are elderly and low-income.

They chose Piety Hill because of the arrival in 2008 of Peaches & Greens, a mobile produce truck that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the community; the company also operates a brick-and-mortar store. In 2010 and 2011, Peaches & Greens became the only retailer in Piety Hill to participate in the Double-Up Bucks program, which provides coupons worth up to $20 that can be redeemed only for fresh fruits and vegetables.

The researchers found that people in the Double-Up Bucks program increased their fruit purchases by 67 percent year-over-year, their vegetable purchases by 6 percent, and combined purchases by 56 percent.

On the surface, that sounds successful. But it’s not the whole story. Turns out that despite the availability of the coupons, most members of the community never even made it to Peaches & Greens — in part, because they did not know it was there.

And even if they had known, other obstacles remained: Fewer than 50 percent of those who responded to the community survey had access to a vehicle, cooking facilities, safe food storage, or utilities. All of which help explain why prepackaged foods may seem like an easier option to people in food deserts. From –

However, not even income disparity is the whole story either. Being a minority might also put you at risk. But not just any kind of minority. If you are a Japanese Meonite living in South Dakota, even if you live in a food desert, your statistical chances of getting diabetes are pretty low. Statistics can tell us a lot about the rising rates of diet related illnesses, as well as about the shape, strength and overall health of our society.

Diversity census map

Of course, statistics can only be taken so far. It turns out that these maps also indicate that having more money than your neighbor might provide some amount of protection against voodoo, being a zombie or being a democrat. Unless you live in Texas…in which case all bets are off.

Personally, I’m a lot less worried about my statistical chances of Voodoo Zombification, but I have to wonder if High Fructose Corn Syrup might somehow be associate with that too.

Voodoo and Zombie distribution map


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