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Farm subsidies and obesity in the United States: National evidence and international comparisons

Author

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  • Alston, Julian M.
  • Sumner, Daniel A.
  • Vosti, Stephen A.

Abstract

Many commentators have claimed that farm subsidies have contributed significantly to the "obesity epidemic" by making fattening foods relatively cheap and abundant. But U.S. farm policies have generally small and mixed effects on farm commodity prices, which in turn have even smaller and still mixed effects on the relative prices of more- and less-fattening foods. Other factors have had much more influence on reducing the farm prices of food commodities and the consumer prices of food such that any effects of U.S. farm policies on U.S. obesity patterns must have been negligible. Moreover, while many arguments can be made for changing U.S. farm subsidies, even entirely eliminating the current programs could not be expected to have a significant influence on obesity rates. International evidence reinforces this finding. The countries that support their farmers most strongly tend to have relatively low obesity rates. In these countries the main support for farmers comes through trade barriers and higher consumer prices, which--like U.S. policies for sugar, dairy, orange juice, and beef--discourage consumption and reduce obesity. In contrast with agricultural subsidies, agricultural R&D has had a significant effect in the past on the relative price of food commodities and food, and has the potential to influence obesity patterns in the future, but R&D policy is a very blunt instrument for pursuing public health policy objectives.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:33:y:2008:i:6:p:470-479
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Capacci, Sara & Mazzocchi, Mario, 2011. "Five-a-day, a price to pay: An evaluation of the UK program impact accounting for market forces," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 87-98, January.
    2. Julian M. Alston & Joanna P. MacEwan & Abigail M. Okrent, 2016. "Effects of U.S. Public Agricultural R&D on U.S. Obesity and its Social Costs," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 38(3), pages 492-520.
    3. Hawkes, Corinna & Friel, Sharon & Lobstein, Tim & Lang, Tim, 2012. "Linking agricultural policies with obesity and noncommunicable diseases: A new perspective for a globalising world," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 343-353.
    4. Trenton Smith & Hayley Chouinard & Philip Wandschneider, 2009. "Waiting for the Invisible Hand: Market Power and Endogenous Information in the Modern Market for Food," Working Papers 2009-07, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
    5. Bradley J. Rickard & Abigail M. Okrent & Julian M. Alston, 2013. "How Have Agricultural Policies Influenced Caloric Consumption In The United States?," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(3), pages 316-339, March.
    6. Libby Hattersley, 2013. "Agri-food system transformations and diet-related chronic disease in Australia: a nutrition-oriented value chain approach," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 30(2), pages 299-309, June.
    7. Golan, Elise & Unnevehr, Laurian, 2008. "Food product composition, consumer health, and public policy: Introduction and overview of special section," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 465-469, December.
    8. Smith, Trenton G. & Chouinard, Hayley H. & Wandschneider, Philip R., 2011. "Waiting for the invisible hand: Novel products and the role of information in the modern market for food," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 239-249, April.
    9. repec:ags:aare13:148420 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:oup:apecpp:v:39:y:2017:i:3:p:387-406. is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Peterson, Cora, 2011. "A rotten deal for schools? An assessment of states' success with the National School Lunch Program's in-kind food benefit," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 588-596, October.
    12. Glauber, Joseph W. & Effland, Anne, 2016. "United States agricultural policy: Its evolution and impact:," IFPRI discussion papers 1543, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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