Weight not tied to ag policies

Weight not tied to ag policies

Research shows that farm program subsidies do not contribute to high calorie consumption and weight gain in adults.

MANY observers -- from prominent economists, journalists, nutritionists and elected officials -- have suggested that agricultural policies that support the production of certain commodities contribute to increased rates of excess weight and obesity among consumers by making those commodities more accessible (i.e., abundant and cheap), according to Abigail Okrent, an economist at the U.S. Economic Research Service (ERS).

For instance, these critics say farm program subsidies that lower production costs and prices of corn and wheat lead to greater consumption of fattening foods made from corn and wheat and, therefore, to growing waistlines, she said in an article in the monthly ERS magazine Amber Waves.

However, a recent study by researchers at ERS, Cornell University and the University of California-Davis found results to the contrary, Okrent said.

The research determined that farm subsidies -- by themselves as well as combined with additional agricultural policies that restrict supplies such as acreage set-asides or import restrictions -- have little impact on the amount of calories consumed and weight gained by American adults, she said.

Okrent reported that the researchers used a model to simulate the effect on consumption of foods and weight gain/loss if all subsidies on food grains and oilseeds were removed. The model used three baselines -- 1992, 1997 and 2002 -- and seven at-home food groups, away-from-home foods and alcoholic beverages.

Results showed that removing subsidies would, indeed, lead to a decrease in production of food grains and oilseeds and an increase in the prices of the foods and beverages made from them, Okrent said.

However, given how little agricultural commodities contribute to food prices, especially highly processed products, she emphasized that the price increases would be minimal.

Accordingly, Okrent said calorie consumption would also decrease minimally -- about 1,000-1,800 calories per person per year, or between one-third to one-half a pound in bodyweight for an adult over a five-year period (Table).

She noted that the greatest decreases in calorie consumption would be in bakery and cereal products and away-from-home foods, which would more than offset increases in calories consumed from dairy products and fruits and vegetables.

Okrent said the model then removed all farm program subsidies, including subsidies for aquaculture production, and all indirect subsidies such as import restrictions and found similar inconsequential results.

In this case, she said, calorie consumption would increase 3,100-3,900 calories per person per year, or about 1 lb. in bodyweight over a five-year period.

Removing all subsidies would decrease calorie consumption in six of the nine categories, but this would, again, be more than offset by increases in calorie consumption from dairy products, fruits and vegetables as well as from away-from-home foods, she said.

 

Effects of removing agricultural subsidies on Americans' caloric intake

 

-Food grains/oilseeds-

-All policies-

 

1992

1997

2002

1992

1997

2002

Food category

-Annual change in per capita caloric intake-

At-home food

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bakery/cereals

-810

-1,472

-927

-3,663

-4,183

-3,624

Meat

8

21

19

-1,320

-1,338

-1,207

Dairy

150

213

264

7,274

10,050

7,853

Eggs

-7

-7

-27

-436

-722

-584

Fruits/vegetables

49

79

28

1,857

1,967

1,674

Other foods

-106

-58

-313

-1,222

-2,407

-1,458

Nonalcoholic beverages

0

-9

25

-1,420

-2,332

-2,068

Away-from-home food

-264

-580

-425

2,355

3,521

2,509

Alcoholic beverages

-13

-32

-62

-15

-65

-35

Total

-995

-1,846

-1,419

3,410

3,860

3,061

Weight change (lb.)

-0.3

-0.5

-0.4

1.0

1.1

0.9

Note: Weight change is in per capita body weight over five years.

Source: U.S. Economic Research Service.

 

Volume:85 Issue:02

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