How have agricultural policies influenced caloric consumption in the United States?

  • Rickard B
  • Okrent A
  • Alston J
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Many commentators have speculated that agricultural policies have contributed to increased obesity rates in the United States, yet such claims are often made without any analysis of the complex links between real-world farm commodity support programs, prices and consumption of foods, and caloric intake. This article carefully studies the effects of US agricultural policies on prices and quantities of 10 agricultural commodities and nine food categories in the United States over time. Using a detailed multimarket model, we simulate the counterfactual removal of measures of support applied to US agricultural commodities in 1992, 1997, and 2002 and quantify the effects on US food consumption and caloric intake. To parameterize the simulations, we calculate three alternative measures of consumer support (the implicit consumer subsidy from policies that support producers) for the 10 agricultural commodities using information about government expenditures on agricultural commodities from various sources. Our results indicate that-holding all other policies constant-removing US subsidies on grains and oilseeds in the three periods would have caused caloric consumption to decrease minimally whereas removal of all US agricultural policies (including barriers against imports of sugar and dairy products) would have caused total caloric intake to increase. Our results also indicate that the influence of agricultural policies on caloric intake has diminished over time.

Author-supplied keywords

  • agricultural policy
  • caloric intake
  • consumer support
  • food consumption
  • obesity
  • simulation model

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  • Bradley J. Rickard

  • Abigail M. Okrent

  • Julian M. Alston

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