Do U.S. agricultural policies contribute to rising obesity rates among Americans by making farm commodities more available and cheaper? A recent study conducted by researchers at the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of California at Davis and Cornell University said no. They found that commodity policies overall have had fairly small impacts on calorie intake and do not contribute significantly to obesity trends.
The researchers simulated the effect of removing agricultural policies and import barriers between 1990 and 2004 to measure the effects on U.S. food consumption and caloric intake. While the overall impact of eliminating farm subsidies on consumption is small, they concluded that agricultural policies affect markets and food products differently. Consumption of dairy products and produce would increase, they said, if agricultural supports were eliminated, while consumption of other foods, such as baked goods, would decrease.
In fact, the study found that removing all U.S. farm subsidies would cause a decline in consumption of six of nine food categories, but it would increase consumption of dairy, fruits and vegetables, and food away from home. The categories that would decline are cereals and bakery, meat, eggs, non-alcoholic beverages, alcoholic beverages and "other food."
The researchers also found that eliminating U.S. support for only grains and oilseeds resulted in slightly lower consumption of cereal and bakery, eggs and food away from home, but increased dairy consumption because of substitution effects. Overall, the elimination of grain and oilseed support lowered caloric consumption modestly.
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