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

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

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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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
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ags:aaea13:149796
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  1. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Alston, Julian M. & Sumner, Daniel A. & Vosti, Stephen A., 2006. "Are Agricultural Policies Making Us Fat? Likely Links Between Agricultural Policies and Human Nutrition and Obesity, and their Policy Implications," 2006 Annual Meeting, August 12-18, 2006, Queensland, Australia 25343, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
  6. Shin-Yi Chou & Michael Grossman & Henry Saffer, 2002. "An Economic Analysis of Adult Obesity: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," NBER Working Papers 9247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. 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.
  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. 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.
  11. 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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  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. James Miller & Keith Coble, 2005. "Cheap Food Policy: Fact or Rhetoric," Others 0506008, EconWPA.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
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