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Paying farmers to grow commodity crops makes food cheap, but the issues of why we eat too much, and how to fix that, are complex.Bad health can be linked to wheat, corn, dairy and meat—and a range of foods currently subsidized by the government. That was the catchy finding that researchers announced last week with a study showing a correlation between an increased consumption of subsidized foods and health problems like obesity and high cholesterol. But is it actually the farm subsidies that make people eat those foods?

To answer that question, you’ve got to understand three things: What kind of food we subsidize, how subsidies affect prices, and what incentives work to actually get people to eat better food. (Hint: Think coupons.)

Yes, Subsidized Food Can Be Unhealthy

First things first: Eating more of the foods that are subsidized does seem to set the stage for poor health.

Using data that tracked what more than 10,000 Americans reported eating in a single day, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations calculated how much of people’s diets were made up of subsidized foods. These include soybean, rice, sorghum, dairy, and meat, as well as corn and wheat. Much of those foods are processed: corn beco...

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