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

February 2012

Bradley J. Rickard, Abigail M. Okrent, Julian M. Alston


The article examines common claims that agricultural subsidies are strong contributors to the increase in obesity rates seen throughout the United States. The study argues that these claims are not backed up by sufficient evidence and attempts to find the true effect agricultural policy has on obesity rates. Overall the study finds that agricultural subsidies for grains and oil seeds have a small positive effect on the rate of obesity. Interestingly though, the study found that agricultural subsidies as a whole have a significant negative effect on obesity rates in the U.S. suggesting that policy has been helpful overall. Further, the study finds that the effect on obesity that subsides in general have is decreasing over time.

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Policy Implications

This article can be used in attempting to set efficient agricultural policy, specifically that which accounts for potential effects on obesity. Although removing subsides for grains and oils would lead to small decreases in caloric consumption, the article points out that politically such a specific removal of agricultural subsidies would be very difficult. The article suggests instead that any attempts to reform agricultural subsidies would lead to unilateral reductions and lead to possible increases in obesity. The study continues to point out that subsides should not be blamed for obesity rates, and that smart policy should not attempt to disband it on health merit.

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