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Panel Calls on Policy Makers to Stop Subsidizing Unhealthy Foods

Healthnotes Newswire (October 11, 2007)—About two-thirds of cancer deaths may be prevented: one-third of them are directly related to cigarette smoking, while another third are linked to poor eating habits and obesity. In its recent report, the President’s Cancer Panel—a Congress-appointed advisory group that monitors the nation’s efforts to reduce cancer burden—implicated government food subsidy programs in contributing to the country’s cancer problem.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 66% of Americans are overweight or obese. Physical inactivity and obesity have been linked to several types of cancer, including colon, breast, prostate, kidney, and female reproductive system cancers. The report stated, “Current agricultural and public health policy is not coordinated. We heavily subsidize the growth of foods (e.g. corn, soy) that in their processed forms (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated corn and soybean oils, grain-fed cattle) are known contributors to obesity and associated chronic diseases, including cancer.”

In addition, “Physical education has been all but eliminated in many schools, largely due to pressures to improve performance in core academic subjects,” the panel reported. Media entertainment is also largely to blame for decreases in physical activity among America’s youth. One study estimated that children 8 to 18 years old spend an average of 6.5 hours per day watching TV, playing video games, or doing computer activities not related to school work.

The panel recommended that Congress (via reauthorization of the upcoming Farm Bill), in coordination with the US Department of Agriculture and state and local governments, work “to improve the food supply and to make sure that all people have access to affordable, healthy food.” They advise limiting farm subsidies that promote the production of high fructose corn syrup for use in foods, and revising the food choices allowed by government-funded programs such as school lunch programs; Headstart; and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). In addition, they recommend that incentives be given to farmers to encourage increased fruit and vegetable production.

The panel also urged that the Department of Education “reinstate physical education at meaningful levels in grades K–12” and broaden the scope of physical education to include individually oriented activities such as yoga and weight training. The panel charges the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and local schools with the task of replacing unhealthy foods in school cafeterias and vending machines with healthful alternatives, and to include curricula that help children understand how to read food labels and to make better food choices.

Health-promoting steps for you and your children:

• Be proactive: Advocate for healthful alternatives to soda and junk food in your children’s schools.

• Support local farms: Look for a community-supported farm in your area. Contributing to local farms helps keep resources in your area and provides you and your family with the freshest, healthiest foods available.

• Limit sedentary leisure activities: Avoid allowing children under the age of two to watch TV; set limits on the amount of time that older children and adolescents spend surfing the Web, playing computer games, and watching TV.

• Get moving—together: Exercise decreases your risk of obesity and the diseases that come with it such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Starting a fitness routine with friends or family increases the chances that you’ll keep it up.

(President’s Cancer Panel, accessed October 2007:

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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