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

Listed author(s):
  • Julian M. Alston
  • Joanna P. MacEwan
  • Abigail M. Okrent

How much has food abundance, attributable to U.S. public agricultural R&D, contributed to 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 healthcare expenditures related to obesity, and consumer welfare. We find that a 10% increase in the stream of annual U.S. public investment in agricultural R&D in the latter half of the twentieth century would have caused a modest increase in the average daily calorie consumption of American adults, resulting in small increases in public healthcare expenditures related to obesity. On the other hand, such an increase in spending would have generated very substantial consumer benefits, and net national benefits, given the very large benefit-cost ratios for agricultural R&D. This implies that current policy objectives of revising agricultural R&D priorities to pursue obesity objectives are likely to be comparatively unproductive and socially wasteful. Moreover, R&D lags of decades mean that such an approach would be totally ineffective in the immediate horizon.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/aepp/ppw014
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Article provided by Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in its journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

Volume (Year): 38 (2016)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 492-520

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Handle: RePEc:oup:apecpp:v:38:y:2016:i:3:p:492-520.
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  1. Julian M. Alston & Matthew A. Andersen & Jennifer S. James & Philip G. Pardey, 2011. "The Economic Returns to U.S. Public Agricultural Research," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1257-1277.
  2. 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, 03.
  3. 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.
  4. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 93-118, Summer.
  5. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," Working Papers 0203, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Parks, Joanna C. & Alston, Julian M. & Okrent, Abigail M., 2012. "The Marginal External Cost of Obesity in the United States," 2012 Annual Meeting, August 12-14, 2012, Seattle, Washington 125128, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  10. 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.
  11. Okrent, Abigail M. & Alston, Julian M., 2011. "Demand for Food in the United States: A Review of Literature, Evaluation of Previous Estimates, and Presentation of New Estimates of Demand," Monographs, University of California, Davis, Giannini Foundation, number 251908.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Julian M. Alston & Daniel A. Sumner & Stephen A. Vosti, 2006. "Are Agricultural Policies Making Us Fat? Likely Links between Agricultural Policies and Human Nutrition and Obesity, and Their Policy Implications ," Review of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 28(3), pages 313-322.
  15. Miller, J. Corey & Coble, Keith H., 2007. "Cheap food policy: Fact or rhetoric?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 98-111, February.
  16. 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).
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
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