New Study: Farm Policies Do Not Contribute to Obesity in U.S.

March 8, 2012

A new study by Health Economics throws a bucket of cold water on assertions that try to blame U.S. farm policies for obesity rates.  “Contrary to common claims in the popular media, farm policies have more likely slowed the rise in obesity in the United States,” the study finds.

The authors note that “[Michael] Pollan…has claimed that subsidies on commodities such as corn and wheat have led to lower prices of high-calorie, processed foods…Likewise, [others] have attributed the growth in US obesity rates to agricultural policies…”

But, the report notes that “[g]iven the relatively small share of the cost of commodities in the cost of retail food products, the effects in markets for food products are even smaller,” further pointing out that “several economic studies suggest that these effects are small or non-existent given the small cost share of agricultural commodities in food products…”

The economists who conducted the study “How Have Agricultural Policies Influenced Caloric Consumption in the United States?” Bradley J. Rickard, Abigail M. Okrent, and Julian M. Alston, measured price supports for 10 commodities from 1988 to 2006, and developed models predicting how consumers would react to price changes given consumption preferences.  The study was funded by a grant from the National Research Initiative and the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

And contrary to the accusations of critics, the authors note that current farm policies are actually guiding consumers to make healthier, less caloric food choices. “Eliminating all farm [policies] would cause consumption of some food products to decrease but would also cause consumption of other food products to increase and most likely would lead to an increase in overall caloric consumption.”

While the study was wide ranging and included some conclusions that are more controversial, Farm Policy Facts thought it important to bring to readers’ attention that yet another anti-Farm Bill myth has been laid to waste.