Abstract:

How much has food abundance, attributable to U.S. public agricultural R&D, contributed to high and rising U.S. obesity rates? In this paper we investigate the effects of public investment in agricultural R&D on food prices, per capita calorie consumption, adult body weight, obesity, public health-care expenditures related to obesity, and consumer welfare. We find that a 10 percent increase in the stream of annual U.S. public investment in agricultural R&D in the latter half of the 20th century would have caused a very modest increase in average daily calorie consumption of American adults, resulting in very small increases in public health-care expenditures related to obesity. On the other hand, such an increase in spending would have generated very substantial consumer benefits, and net national benefits, given the very large benefit-cost ratios for agricultural R&D. Consequently, a policy of revising agricultural R&D priorities to pursue obesity objectives is likely to be comparatively unproductive and socially wasteful.

See PDF of the paper here: Effects of U.S. Public Agricultural R&D on U.S. Obesity and its Social Costs. Julian M. Alston, Joanna P. MacEwan, and Abigail M. Okrent (2014). RMI-CWE Working Paper number 1302.