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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 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.

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Paper provided by Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society in its series 2013 Conference (57th), February 5-8, 2013, Sydney, Australia with number 152174.

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Date of creation: Feb 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ags:aare13:152174
Contact details of provider: Postal: AARES Central Office Manager, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, Canberra ACT 0200
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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Parks, Joanna C. & Alston, Julian M. & Okrent, Abigail M., 2012. "The Marginal External Cost of Obesity in the United States," Working Papers 162519, Robert Mondavi Institute Center for Wine Economics.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. Miller, J. Corey & Coble, Keith H., 2007. "Cheap food policy: Fact or rhetoric?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 98-111, February.
  7. 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.
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  9. 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.
  10. Okrent, Abigail M. & Alston, Julian M., 2011. "The Effects of Farm Commodity and Retail Food Policies on Obesity and Economic Welfare in the United States," Working Papers 162516, Robert Mondavi Institute Center for Wine Economics.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," NBER Working Papers 8946, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. John Cawley & Chad Meyerhoefer, 2010. "The Medical Care Costs of Obesity: An Instrumental Variables Approach," NBER Working Papers 16467, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. 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.
  17. repec:ags:aaea10:61675 is not listed on IDEAS
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