Foods derived from subsidized commodities associated with diabetes and heart disease risk

July 5, 2016

Higher consumption of foods derived from currently-subsidized commodities is associated with higher risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease according to a new study by researchers at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. The full paper is available in the July 5 online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

The research is the first of its kind to examine associations between an individual's consumption of foods derived from subsidized food commodities and risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. The investigator team, led by Emory doctoral student Karen Siegel, examined data from the 2001-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) that included more than 10,000 adults between the ages of 18-64. Data surveyed included information about health behaviors and dietary intake and the proportion of an individual's caloric intake derived from foods with subsidized commodities.

More than half of all daily calories consumed by nonelderly adults in the United States originated from subsidized food commodities. Individuals who consumed a higher percentage of subsidized foods in their diet also had significantly higher risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"Our research is significant because it addresses the need for better alignment of agricultural and nutritional policies," says K.M. Venkat Narayan, senior author and Ruth and O.C. Hubert Professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health. "One potential policy lever may be to shift agricultural subsidies towards the production of healthier crops such as fruits and vegetables. Doing so may increase the potential to improve population health and reduce heart disease and diabetes risk."

Researchers indicate that eating fewer subsidized foods alone will not eradicate obesity, but individuals whose diets consist of a lower proportion of subsidized foods have a lower probability of being obese.

"Nutritional guidelines are focused on the population's needs for healthier foods, but food and agricultural policies that influence food production and availability are not," explains Narayan. "Our hope is that this study shines a light on the disconnect between federal nutritional recommendations and food commodity subsidies, and may potentially lead to future collaborative research and action."