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

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

Abstract

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 modest increase in average daily calorie consumption of American adults, resulting in 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alston, Julian M. & Okrent, Abigail M. & Parks, Joanna, 2013. "Effects of U.S. Public Agricultural R&D on U.S. Obesity and its Social Costs," 2013 Conference (57th), February 5-8, 2013, Sydney, Australia 152174, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:aare13:152174
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.152174
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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. 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.
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    4. 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.
    5. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alston, Julian M. & Pardey, Philip G., 2014. "Agricultural R&D, Food Prices, Poverty and Malnutrition Redux," Staff Papers 162413, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
    2. 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.

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