IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Are Agricultural Policies Making Us Fat? Likely Links between Agricultural Policies and Human Nutrition and Obesity, and Their Policy Implications

Listed author(s):
  • Julian M. Alston
  • Daniel A. Sumner
  • Stephen A. Vosti

Rates of obesity among adults and children in the U.S. are soaring, with potentially huge private and social costs. Increasing attention is being paid to agricultural policies as both the culprits through their perceived roles in reducing the relative prices of energy-dense foods, and as the potential saviors through their perceived ability to do the opposite. However, the effects of agricultural policies on human nutrition and obesity are not well understood. This paper considers (1) trends in agricultural commodity prices, and the contributions of commodity policies and agricultural R&D policies to those trends, (2) the links between changes in commodity prices and changes in food prices; and (3) the implications of price-induced changes in food characteristics for human nutrition outcomes. Preliminary results suggest that agricultural R&D has led to dramatic decreases in costs of production and to consequent long-term declines in commodity prices, but the links between commodity price declines and food prices are less clear and are conditioned by the changing structure of food markets. Commodity-specific trade policy has clearly put upward pressure on the domestic prices of several major food commodities, but the consumer prices for most of these foods have fallen nonetheless. Changes in relative prices of 'healthy' versus 'unhealthy' foods are difficult to establish empirically, but even if 'healthy' foods are becoming relatively more expensive, food prices in general play only a small role in determining food consumption; hence, policies aiming to reduce obesity through changes in relative food prices may prove ineffective or inefficient.

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in its journal Review of Agricultural Economics.

Volume (Year): 28 (2006)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 313-322

in new window

Handle: RePEc:oup:revage:v:28:y:2006:i:3:p:313-322
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK

Phone: (414) 918-3190
Fax: 01865 267 985
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

Order Information: Web:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  1. Kuchler, Fred & Tegene, Abebayehu & Harris, James Michael, 2004. "Taxing Snack Foods: What to Expect for Diet and Tax Revenues," Agricultural Information Bulletins 33607, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  2. Julian M. Alston & Philip G. Pardey & Jennifer S. James & Matthew A. Anderson, 2009. "The Economics of Agricultural R&D," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 537-566, September.
  3. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2004:94:9:1555-1559_9 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. 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).
  5. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2000:90:6:854-857_7 is not listed on IDEAS
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:revage:v:28:y:2006:i:3:p:313-322. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press)

or (Christopher F. Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.