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WISPIRG Foundation
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
James Causey

Jeremy Van DerLinden loved fast food and soda.

"I guess you can say I was a big fan of gas station food and KFC was my favorite thing," Van DerLinden said.

But years of fatty foods and sugary laden snacks caused him to have constant headaches and be in pain. It caused his weight to balloon into the 270s.

"It was the chemicals and all the preservatives in the junk I was eating," said Van DerLinden, 26, of Wauwatosa.

Van DerLinden met with a dietitian and went on a 28-day diet. He eliminated soda, fast foods, dairy, wheat and sugar and replaced those foods with organic home grown fresh fruits and vegetables. He started to cook his meals.

The result: He lost 17 pounds, his energy level came back and he was no longer in pain.

"I did all of this without exercise. It was my first time in the 250s in three years," Van DerLinden said. "I'm moving more now so I should take off some more weight."

Additives in junk food are contributing to the growing obesity and diabetes crisis, but each year, our tax dollars pay for enough corn syrup and other junk food additives to buy each taxpayer 19 Twinkies, but only a quarter of one Red Delicious apple.

"If you want to know why junk food is so cheap, now you know," said Bruce Speight, director of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group.

We need a shift in federal farm subsidies to make it so that a box of Twinkies is not cheaper than a bag of carrots.

Federal government subsidies don't mirror that same government's nutrition guidelines, especially when billions of tax dollars have been directed toward agribusiness to drive down the cost of fats and sugars by subsidizing commodity crops such as corn and soybeans.

The nation is losing its fight in the obesity epidemic. In my family, my mother is diabetic and this month I learned that two of my cousins - both under the age of 35 - discovered that they are diabetic.

Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last decade, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half of all people under the age of 19 will be obese by 2030.

Will Allen, founder of Growing Power in Milwaukee, said the rise in obesity has many causes, but the most important is the increased prevalence of high-fat, sugary junk foods.

Much of the direct payments goes to large farm corporations that produce processed foods that are not good for us. Meanwhile, Allen said most of the small- and medium-sized farmers that grow fruits and vegetables don't qualify for federal subsidies.

"When vegetables come from other states, you lose 50% of the nutrients by the time you get it in your stomach," Allen said.

A person's weight is a multidimensional problem. You have to exercise and eat right to maintain a healthy weight but a lot of people don't know what's healthy, said Karen Krchma, a Milwaukee dietitian.

Some foods may indicate that they are "low fat," but they are packed with sodium or oils and preservatives that make them unhealthy.

"I encourage people to take soda out of their diet and replace it with water and I also tell people that a dessert should be fruit. It does not have to be cake," Krchma said.

Most of the foods with additives such as high fructose corn syrup leave the person craving more.

Van DerLinden knew that feeling.

"Before I changed my diet, I could eat two double-cheeseburgers and a McChicken. The more I ate the more I craved it," Van DerLinden said.

Today, he's eating healthier, his meal portions are smaller and he's satisfied.

The fact that billions in tax dollars are being wasted on junk food when obesity rates are soaring is proof that it is time to reform national agricultural subsidies. Our nation's health depends on it.
Health facts

One in five kids ages 6-11 is now obese - 12.5 million under the age of 19 are. At the current pace, half of the adult population will be obese by 2030.

Milwaukee's share of junk food subsidies is $2.04 million, or enough to purchase about 5.4 million Twinkies or 61,300 apples.

Americans spent $147 billion on obesity-related medical costs in 2008, nearly double what we spent in 1998.

James E. Causey is a Journal Sentinel editorial writer, columnist & blogger. Email Twitter: jecausey

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