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Food and Health: A European Perspective

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  • Venturini, Luciano

Abstract

This paper addresses four issues which arise from increasing concerns about overweight and obesity in European countries. First, we explore the main stylized facts of the phenomenon. We show that although Europeans are not obese like Americans, there is robust evidence that adult and childhood obesity rates tend to increase substantially in many European countries. The second part of the paper surveys the recent theoretical literature on the economics of obesity. In particular, we focus on the debate about the merits and limits of public policies in this area. This paper presents an alternative perspective from that suggested by the rational-choice approach according to which government intervention is not necessary. We emphasize the potential positive role of well-designed public policies by emphasizing that in a world with less than perfect information, externalities, self-control problems, endogenous preferences and social inequalities, the equivalence between individual choice and individual as well as social welfare is weakened. We suggest that the right framework for thinking about public policy in this area is a multi-factor and multi-stakeholder approach. This approach casts some doubt on the notion of a strict link between determinants of weight gain and the choice of policy tools to tackle the phenomenon. We argue that just the multi-factor nature of the obesity phenomenon allows to identify several instruments and policy tools. Several non-food policies targeted to different purposes such as environmental issues, social cohesion, and urban planning can also have useful consequences in mitigating weight gain. Thirdly, we explore the determinants of European obesity patterns. In particular, we examine the relevance for Europe of the food consumption hypothesis recently developed by Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro according to which technological change easing access to food plays a key role as a determinant of weight gain. It is argued that this hypothesis can provide a plausible explanation for overweight and obesity patterns in Europe, although we also find that in some countries there is evidence of weight gains in the absence of significant increases in food calorie intake. Finally, the paper proceeds to examine current policies in Europe at both national and European Union level and the implications of the findings for addressing more effective policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Venturini, Luciano, 2006. "Food and Health: A European Perspective," Conference Papers 6684, University of Minnesota, Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:umcicp:6684
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Tomas J. Philipson & Richard A. Posner, 1999. "The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change," Working Papers 9912, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
    2. 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.
    3. Trenton G. Smith, 2004. "The McDonald’s Equilibrium. Advertising, empty calories, and the endogenous determination of dietary preferences," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 23(3), pages 383-413, December.
    4. 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.
    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. Trenton Smith, 2009. "Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 249-282, December.
    7. Maria L. Loureiro & Rodolfo M. Nayga, 2005. "International Dimensions of Obesity and Overweight Related Problems: An Economics Perspective," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(5), pages 1147-1153.
    8. Jean D. Kinsey, 2001. "The New Food Economy: Consumers, Farms, Pharms, and Science," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1113-1130.
    9. Kuchler, Fred & Golan, Elise H. & Variyam, Jayachandran N. & Crutchfield, Stephen R., 2005. "Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences," Amber Waves, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, June.
    10. Srinivasan, C.S. & Irz, Xavier & Shankar, Bhavani, 2006. "An assessment of the potential consumption impacts of WHO dietary norms in OECD countries," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 53-77, February.
    11. Kuchler, Fred & Golan, Elise H., 2004. "Is There a Role for Government in Reducing the Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity?," Choices, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 19(3).
    12. Kuchler, Fred & Golan, Elise H. & Variyam, Jayachandran N. & Crutchfield, Stephen R., 2005. "Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences," Brazilian Journal of Rural Economy and Sociology (RESR), Sociedade Brasileira de Economia e Sociologia Rural, June.
    13. 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.
    14. Connor, John M, 1994. "North America as Precursor of Changes in Western European Food-Purchasing Patterns," European Review of Agricultural Economics, Foundation for the European Review of Agricultural Economics, vol. 21(2), pages 155-173.
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