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

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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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    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. Jayson L. Lusk, 2017. "Evaluating the Policy Proposals of the Food Movement," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 39(3), pages 387-406.
    9. Glauber, Joseph W. & Effland, Anne, 2016. "United States agricultural policy: Its evolution and impact:," IFPRI discussion papers 1543, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    10. 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.
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    12. Rickertsen, K. & Gustavsen, G.W. & Nayga, R.M. & Dong, D., 2018. "Acculturation in Food Choices among U.S. Immigrants," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 277041, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
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    14. Jean Balié & Badri Narayanan, 2019. "What Should be the Focus of Agricultural Policy Reforms in Sub-Saharan Africa? A CGE Analysis," Margin: The Journal of Applied Economic Research, National Council of Applied Economic Research, vol. 13(4), pages 401-435, November.

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