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Effects of U.S. Public Agricultural R&D on U.S. Obesity and its Social Costs

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  • Alston, Julian M.
  • Okrent, Abigail M.
  • Parks, Joanna

Abstract

How much has food abundance, attributable to U.S. public agricultural R&D, contributed to the high and rising U.S. obesity rates? In this paper we investigate the effects of public investment in agricultural R&D on food prices, per capita calorie consumption, adult body weight, obesity, public health-care expenditures related to obesity, and social welfare. First we use an econometric model to estimate the average effect of an incremental investment in agricultural R&D on the farm prices of ten categories of farm commodities. Next, we use the econometric results in a simulation model to estimate the implied changes in prices and quantities consumed of nine categories of food for given changes in research expenditures. Finally, we estimate the corresponding changes in social welfare, including both the traditional measures of changes in economic surplus in markets for food and farm commodities, and changes in public health-care expenditures associated with the predicted changes in food consumption and hence obesity. We find that a 10 percent increase in the stream of annual U.S. public investment in agricultural R&D in the latter half of the 20th century would have caused a very modest increase in average daily calorie consumption of American adults, resulting in very small increases in social costs of obesity. On the other hand, such an increase in spending would have generated very substantial net national benefits given the very large benefit-cost ratios for agricultural R&D.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in its series 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. with number 149796.

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Date of creation: Aug 2013
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Handle: RePEc:ags:aaea13:149796

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Keywords: obesity; agricultural R&D; social welfare; calories; Agricultural and Food Policy; Food Consumption/Nutrition/Food Safety;

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  1. Rickard, Bradley J. & Okrent, Abigail M. & Alston, Julian M., 2011. "How have agricultural policies influenced caloric consumption in the United States?," Working Papers 126543, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
  2. Cawley, John & Meyerhoefer, Chad, 2012. "The medical care costs of obesity: An instrumental variables approach," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 219-230.
  3. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," NBER Working Papers 8946, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Parks, Joanna C. & Alston, Julian M. & Okrent, Abigail M., 2012. "The Marginal External Cost of Obesity in the United States," Working Papers 162519, Robert Mondavi Institute Center for Wine Economics.
  6. Alston, Julian M. & Sumner, Daniel A. & Vosti, Stephen A., 2008. "Farm subsidies and obesity in the United States: National evidence and international comparisons," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 470-479, December.
  7. Okrent, Abigail M. & Alston, Julian M., 2010. "The Effects of Farm Commodity Policies and Retail Food Policies on Obesity and Economic Welfare in the United States," 2010 Annual Meeting, July 25-27, 2010, Denver, Colorado 61675, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  8. Abigail M. Okrent & Julian M. Alston, 2012. "The Effects of Farm Commodity and Retail Food Policies on Obesity and Economic Welfare in the United States," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 94(3), pages 611-646.
  9. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson & Jay Bhattacharya, 2005. "Welfare-Enhancing Technological Change and the Growth of Obesity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 253-257, May.
  10. Alston, Julian M. & Andersen, Matthew A. & James, Jennifer S. & Pardey, Philip G., 2011. "The Economic Returns to U.S. Public Agricultural Research," Staff Papers 95522, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
  11. Miller, J. Corey & Coble, Keith H., 2008. "An International Comparison of the Effects of Government Agricultural Support on Food Budget Shares," Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Southern Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 40(02), August.
  12. Chouinard Hayley H & Davis David E & LaFrance Jeffrey T & Perloff Jeffrey M, 2007. "Fat Taxes: Big Money for Small Change," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(2), pages 1-30, June.
  13. Miller, James C. & Coble, Keith H., 2005. "Cheap Food Policy: Fact or Rhetoric?," 2005 Annual meeting, July 24-27, Providence, RI 19310, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
  14. Cutler, David & Shapiro, Jesse & Glaeser, Edward, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese," Scholarly Articles 2640583, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  15. Chou, Shin-Yi & Grossman, Michael & Saffer, Henry, 2004. "An economic analysis of adult obesity: results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 565-587, May.
  16. Okrent, Abigail M. & Alston, Julian M., 2010. "The Demand for Food in the United States: A Review of the Literature, Evaluation of Previous Estimates, and Presentation of New Estimates of Demand," 2010 Annual Meeting, July 25-27, 2010, Denver, Colorado 61674, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  17. Cash, Sean B. & Sunding, David L. & Zilberman, David, 2004. "Fat Taxes And Thin Subsidies: Prices, Diet, And Health Outcomes," 2004 Annual meeting, August 1-4, Denver, CO 19961, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
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