Bureaucracy

21 Federal Agencies Manage 200 Different Diet-Related Programs, Leading to Overlap and Chaos

"There really is no overarching federal strategy to guide the government’s efforts to improve Americans’ diets," says a new government report, which indicates that overlap in initiatives is creating waste.

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The federal government seems concerned that 42 percent of American adults are obese, but apparently not concerned enough to have formed a competent, coordinated plan of attack.

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report publicly released this week found that 21 federal agencies oversee 200 different efforts focused on research, improving crops' nutritional quality, health education and food access initiatives, and regulating grocery stores and restaurants. The GAO admits that, upon study, these nearly two-dozen agencies "have not effectively managed fragmentation of diet-related efforts or the potential for overlap and duplication," which leads to your taxpayer dollars going to waste.

Since "neither the White House nor any federal agency is responsible for leading or coordinating diet-related efforts across the government," GAO experts "recommended that Congress consider identifying and directing a federal agency or other entity to lead a federal strategy on diet-related efforts aimed at reducing Americans' risk of chronic health conditions."

Current government efforts include even "unexpected agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, which studies how our diets can help mitigate the chronic health effects of air pollution." There are the usual suspects, like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but then there are somewhat silly initiatives—like the Healthy Parks Healthy People program, part of the National Park Service, which surely doesn't need to exist for people to continue enjoying parks—and others that could probably be done by the private sector or university researchers, like parts of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, which researches "developing more secure plant species that can maintain productivity in nutrient-depleted soils…and better genetic tools for use in crop improvement." (Sure, more research is better, but private companies may be incentivized to conduct this research on their own to maximize their bottom line.)

Nestled within the report are also some nuggets from discontented agency officials:

"Officials from three of the 16 agencies we interviewed mentioned federal efforts that work at cross-purposes or have conflicting outcomes. For example, officials from one agency said that HHS and USDA have not effectively aligned their missions in public health and agriculture. These officials said that USDA agricultural subsidies have created economic incentives for increased corn production. This has led to lower prices and increased consumption of corn syrup in Americans' diet. However, HHS public health goals call for reduced consumption of sugars such as corn syrup."

This is all a pretty big admission of failure on the part of government bureaucrats and regulators. "There really is no overarching federal strategy to guide the government's efforts to improve Americans' diets," says Steve Morris on the GAO's companion podcast. Programs "work independently, without a common purpose or goal" and sometimes even overlap with each other, wasting resources and "fail[ing] to focus on the areas that really need attention."

This failure comes at an enormous cost: "In 2018, spending to treat cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes accounted for 26 percent of the approximately $1.5 trillion in total health care spending for U.S. adults," notes the podcast. And the pandemic has put less-healthy Americans at even greater risk of dying than before, though that's thankfully mitigated with the proliferation of vaccines. "People who contracted COVID-19 who reported underlying health conditions were six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die," compared to those without diet-related chronic health conditions, says the GAO.

Needlers and baiters of libertarians often attempt what they view as a trump card, assuming that minarchist types must want the agencies that minister to poor people and regulate our food supply to be abolished. But some libertarians are OK with a small amount of federal oversight in this arena, while also casting doubt on the idea that regulatory agencies actually do a good job at achieving their stated aims; irradiating meat, for example, can kill all kinds of bacteria, rendering USDA inspection less important, but consumer groups "instead whipped up panic against it," wrote Megan McArdle in The Atlantic in 2009, leading to slower adoption. Kids' school lunches have long been plagued by political point scoring and fiddling at the margins, without much eye toward whether the guidelines rely on accurate, up-to-date nutritional science.

"Federally funded nutrition researchers have demonstrated scientific incompetence over many generations by presenting anecdotal evidence as scientific evidence," reported researchers for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in a scathing indictment of the federal government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the body that meets every five years to help the government craft its nutrition standards. The federal government's food failures are a dime a dozen—don't even get me started on the food pyramid.

But you can't force a kale salad down people's gullets, not even if you're the U.S. government, and you can't just suggest that people shop at farmers markets or visit Zion National Park and watch them scurry. Many people will still reach for their Big Macs and seasoned Checkers fries even once they've been hectored by a well-meaning bureaucrat. But the government could at least, if it wants to take obesity seriously, be a little less wasteful with our money and a little better at measuring which interventions work best to achieve its aims.

NEXT: Tariffs on Chinese Imports Have Accomplished Approximately Nothing

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  1. We are one of the most obese nations on earth. Proof that federal programs have a negative impact, or just coincidence?

    1. Just think how bad it would be without the government’s efforts! Or maybe they’re not funded well enough!

      Now is not the time to try diet austerity program austerity!

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  2. “The federal government seems concerned that 42 percent of American adults are obese”

    If that were true, the CDC would have urged obese Americans to lose weight during the past 18 months (after finding out that obese people have much higher covid hospitalization and death rates) instead of advocating business/industry/government lock downs, staying at home, and mask mandates (none of which protected public health).

    And if the federal government were even slightly concerned about the obesity pandemic (which is and will continue to be a greater threat to individual and public health than covid), Biden wouldn’t have proposed a huge increase in food stamps for poor Americans (most of whom are overweight or obese).

    When the new CDC survey data is released, I suspect that more than half of American adults were obese in 2020.

    1. As one who has ridden 1,100 mile on my bicycle since May (virtually all on old rail trails), I’ve waved to hundreds of fat people who are sitting on their asses and getting even fatter.

      Riding a bike (or hiking) through the woods costs nothing, is a great way to lose/maintain weight without injury, reduces stress, reveals beautiful scenery, and brings people closer to nature.

      But instead of promoting health and individual responsibility, Democrats and other PC police refer to obese people as victims, and those who want to reduce obesity as fat shamers.

      1. Government nutrition guidelines (which have encouraged Americans to eat far more calories than they burn), food stamps and disability benefits are key reasons why we have a worsening obesity pandemic.

        Fast junk food hasn’t helped either.

      2. “If obesity is a disease, than it is the only disease that can be cured just by keeping your mouth closed” – someone smarter than me.

    2. Just get the anti obesity vaccine.

      1. Its called individual responsibility and self discipline, things big government Democrats and deep state bureaucrats loathe.

    3. And if the CDC really wanted to improve Americans’ health, they would have banned states from enacting lockdowns or discouraging outdoor exercise.

    4. If the CDC is going to be allowed to mandate masks, and OSHA can mandate COVID vaccines, surely HHS could demand that welfare recipients have a BMI under 30?

  3. My how the Overton window has shifted. We aren’t appalled that the Government is busying itself with our personal diet choices. No, just that 42 agencies are in on the game.

    All that said, I am really impressed with Ms Wolfe’s articles lately. A good breadth of subjects. Generally non-partisan, just focused on government power. Her work on Hong Kong back in ’19 was also very good.

  4. but apparently not concerned enough to butt out

    1. (yes, pun intended)

      The last surge in ‘obesity’ was due to enforced inactivity by the government’s responses to the Communist Chinese Virus.
      One of the first can be traced to the federal government’s harping on fat content decades ago. Manufacturers obediently came out with massive numbers of “low fat” products. Sadly, when you remove fats, you also remove flavor. So the manufacturers added sugar to return a bit of flavor. And for some unexplained reason, people gained weight.

      Homework exercise; next grocery store visit, read the nutrition labels of a “low fat” product and the corresponding “regular” version. Look at the carb counts.

  5. Yeah, you fuckers are the ones who told me back in the 70’s to load up on the carbohydrates and the transfats and make sure to get a nice healthy dose of sugar and that eggs and coffee and meat were pure poison. You may think enough time has passed that most people are either unaware or have forgotten how badly you shit the bed on that one, but some of us still wear the scars and we will never forget.

  6. the government’s efforts to improve Americans’ diets are laughable.

  7. >but apparently not concerned enough to have formed a competent, coordinated plan of attack.

    Wait, what? Is this REALLY the first paragraph in a libertarian magazine article?

    What the Feds should do is decidedly NOT have a coordinated “Plan of attack” for 320 million people. Hundreds of millions of individuals who are in no way a uniform lot of people with a uniform lifestyle. They can decide what they eat for themselves.

    Anyone remember the 80s? When the notion of the government dictating what you ate was completely ridiculous? Now people being “fat” is an “Epidemic” … geez fuck man. Hire someone who knows what individual liberty is for articles like this. Stick with the pro-government propaganda for the stuff OBL cheerleads.

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  9. Or, and hear me out here, you could shut down all 21 programs since they’re not working anyway, and save the taxpayers some money.

  10. The government can take anything that’s safe and healthy and make it dangerous and toxic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 3 safest, healthiest things are crack cocaine, crystal meth and fentanyl.

  11. “apparently not concerned enough to have formed a competent, coordinated plan of attack”

    Of course they have, they probably believe they’ve come up with 200 of them and they feel that’s probably too many as xkcd explains.

  12. 2.4 Million years of running Homo on ketones.
    11,000 years of attempting to run on glucose.
    100 years turning complex carbs into nitro-crack pure sugars.
    Addiction to sugar, obesity, heart trouble, liver destruction, diabetes.

    Time to fade out of carb-farming, turn the land back to animals.

    The American/Canadian steppe, and likewise elsewhere, can still “feed the world.”

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  14. And who is still pretending that the USA hasn’t been taken over by a Nazi-Regime when the Gov-Gods are making dietary plans for everyone…

    Bread-Lines?

  15. Once my money is stolen, I condemn the thieves, no matter how they spend it. A healthy society doesn’t believe a majority has rights a minority doesn’t. Research, reports, arguing over the best way loot should be spent is focusing on leaves/branches of the tree of evil, not striking at its root, i.e., valuing force over reason, rights, choice.

  16. There really is no overarching federal strategy to guide the government’s efforts to improve Americans’ diets,

    The lack of strategy isn’t the problem. The problem is that there are any government efforts to improve Americans’ diets.

  17. The government has NO BUSINESS instructing anyone in the matter of diet, nor of funding research into the subject(s). If (modal) diets are thought to add to the burdens of funding medical care, that’s ANOTHER matter the government has no business involving itself in.

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  20. Any diet is bad and stressful for the body. We need to teach people conscious healthy eating instead of diets.
    Healthy eating and diet are completely different things. One is associated with stress, the other is associated with good eating habits.
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