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WISPIRG Foundation
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WQOW ABC 18 Eau Claire
By
Trent Artus

Eau Claire (WQOW) - A watchdog group is pointing at the government as one cause of childhood obesity. 

A recent study shows billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on agriculture subsidies, which in some cases, lead to junk food additives. 

If you compare those subsidies, here in Eau Claire more than $225,000 goes to things like corn and soybeans used in corn syrup and vegetable oils.  Compare that to only $3,500 for products like apples. 

As a mother, Christine Varnavas try's to avoid junk food. 

"Not 100 percent, I vigilantly read labels, I've got two daughters and soon to be a step son and I'm pretty vigilant on what I put in their bodies," says Varnavas. 

However that isn't easy, products with fructose corn syrup and other additives are easy to find and are cheaper. 

"Especially if you shop in the middle aisles of the grocery stores where all the processed foods are, it's in everything," says Varnavas. 

But is the government to blame for this?  A recent study of subsidy dollars shows just how much money is being stuck into junk food additives. 

"What we've found is over the last 15 years taxpayers have spent $16.9 billion to subsidize four common junk food additives," says Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Director. 

The study looks at subsidies and what they're used for. 

"If you compare that percentage to the actual dollar figure, it seems like a fair way to assess the amount of our taxpayer dollars that are going to processed foods," says Speight. 

Those dollars help make unhealthy foods cheaper. 

"To put that another way, if we were to give that money to taxpayers rather than farmers, they would have $7.36 to spend on junk food and only 11 cents to purchase apples," says Speight.  "So they could get 19 Twinkies with their money or less than a whole apple." 

An area nutrition expert says there's no one person to blame for this, but there are ways to get healthier foods cheaper. 

"The biggest tip is, in the growing season in our area, utilizing the local markets and using our local growers because it's more reasonable to purchase them right at the spot than to pay for the transportation and packaging costs," says Daniel Czelatdko, nutritionist. 

WISPIRG and other organizations like them around the country hope to put pressure on lawmakers to reform or even end these types of subsidies.  WISPIRG is traveling around the state to raise awareness about the issue.

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