Mention ‘economics’ and most folks immediately groan, roll their eyes, throw up or want to take a nap. Or all of those things. Oh, wait, you mean I’m the only one that does that? Are you sure? Oh, okay, if you say so.
Nothing against all of those economists out there, it just isn’t my cup of tea. For me, it’s like trying to teach a monkey to speak German (yes, I’m the monkey in this case).
But, a post on the Freakonomics Blog titled Could It Be That U.S. Farm Policy Isn’t Making Us Fatter? just may have changed my mind — at least in the boring department. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a foreign language snooze fest, but in this case, the research certainly piqued my interest.
Author Steve Sexton’s entry covered recent research surrounding a hot topic in this year’s Farm Bill debate — are federal subsidies that support the production of corn and soybeans and other staple crops to blame for Americans’ expanding waistlines?
Food reformers like Michael Pollan are quick to answer with a resounding ‘Yes.’ But, the finding of agricultural economists Bradley Rickard, Abigail Okrent and Julian Alston is that “agricultural policies have discouraged food consumption and mitigated the effects of other factors that have encouraged obesity.”
Rickard, Okrent and Alston even studied the impact of removing only cro subsidies and leaving border policies in place and found that per capita food consumption would decline by 995-1,846 calories per year, lowering the average American’s weight by 0.28 to 0.53 pounds per year. While this may seem to prove food reformer’s case, the study authors says this is a “tiny” effect of farm subsidies on American waistlines and could be offset with as little as two hours of running per year.
In fact, they found that the net effect of eliminating U.S. agricultural policy is to increase per capita calorie consumption by 1,952-4,4771 calories per year, leading to a 0.56-1.36 pound annual increase in body weight.
According to the study’s authors, “Contrary to common claims in the popular media, farm policies have more likely slowed the rise in obesity in the United States.”
So, what’s the take away? According to Sexton, it all boils down to this:
“In other words, Americans have not been lured into unhealthy diets by agricultural policies designed to appease corporate titans. Instead, Americans have chosen their diets in a marketplace that is relatively unaffected if not unencumbered by crop subsidies.
As Congress prepares to reauthorize the quinquennial Farm Bill this year in the presence of a towering budget deficit, commodity supports are likely to undergo careful scrutiny, as well they should. But here’s hoping that deliberations on Capital Hill will be more informed by research from the academic community than by innuendo from a food movement built on yet another fallacy.”
That’s certainly not German to me.