The $11 Trillion Reward (Or, How Congress Could Improve Health, Save Lives, and Shrink the Deficit in One Easy Step)

August 8, 2013 | 10:24 am
Karen Perry Stillerman
Deputy Director

It’s August in Washington, DC, and that means two things—the tomatoes at my farmers market are juicy and delicious, and Congress has cleared out and gone home. Both highly anticipated events, but this year, the two are linked in an unusual way.

You see, when Congress split last week, they left a critical piece of food and farm legislation to grow cold on their plate. And while you might think that the “Farm Bill” is mostly of interest to farmers, a new report unveiled by UCS this week shows that we all have a huge stake in what Congress does (or doesn’t do) with this legislation.


CC image courtesy of NatalieMaynor on Flickr

The Farm Bill can be a health (and health care cost-cutting) bill

Our report, The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There, examines the link between diet and cardiovascular disease—the #1 killer of Americans. Doctors and researchers know that fruits and vegetables are among the most heart-healthy foods we can eat, yet surveys show the average American today eats just half the recommended daily amount. Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease killed 750,000 Americans in 2011, and the cost of treating cardiac patients is skyrocketing and adding to the national debt through Medicare and Medicaid.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our analysis found that if Americans consumed just one additional serving of fruits or vegetables every day, we would save $5 billion in national health care expenditures and prevent 30,000 deaths annually.

And if Americans were to go a step further and eat enough fruits and vegetables to fully meet federal dietary guidelines, we would prevent 127,000 deaths each year and save $17 billion in medical costs. Moreover, those 127,000 lives saved from cardiovascular diseases would be worth an astounding $11 trillion!

So what does all this have to do with the Farm Bill?

Well, UCS and many other groups see that legislation as the ideal place to start achieving the $11 trillion reward. Past Farm Bills (including the one Congress failed to update in 2012, and again this past June) have made it hard for farmers in many parts of the country to grow fruits and vegetables (as we showed in this 2012 report). And those Farm Bills haven’t done enough to help consumers—especially low-income families—buy those healthy foods.  At the same time, huge taxpayer-funded subsidies encourage overproduction of corn and soybeans, which are used to produce meat, biofuels, and cheap processed junk foods.

In other words, the Farm Bill has made consumers and taxpayers pay twice for our unhealthy food system: once to subsidize junk food and again to treat the diet-related illnesses that result.

That’s throwing good money after bad. (And as the New York Times’ Mark Bittman reported, leading fiscal conservative groups agree with us on that.)

Instead, UCS recommends shifting taxpayer funds to invest less in unhealthy foods and more in healthy foods. It’s a smart, common-sense solution that will save lives and improve health. And, as our analysis shows, it will save big bucks in the long term.

Hey, Congress…stop wasting our money on unhealthy food!

A lot of people think that with the number of crises on their plates, Congress doesn’t deserve a summer vacation, and I have to agree. But since they’re home, it would be great if they got an earful from constituents about how they’ve made a mockery of the key legislation that defines our food system.

If you can go to a town hall or visit with you member of Congress in person, tell them to prioritize investments in healthy food, not junk food. If you can’t tell them in person, we’ve made it easy. Just go to to send them a letter demanding that they pass a heart-healthy, deficit-shrinking, farmer-friendly Farm Bill when they come back to work in September.

You can also watch our video, and pass it on!

And while you’re at it, do your heart—and your wallet—a favor: Go to a farmers market (it is National Farmers Market Week, after all) and get yourself some of those tomatoes. They’re perfectly ripe right now, and they just might save your life.