A recent opinion paper in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine takes a look at farm subsidies and draws implications for obesity. One problem is in how the study (or rather review) is interpreted by media outlets. For example, one source had the headline:
US Farm Subsidy Policies Contribute To Worsening Obesity Trends, Study Finds.
However, this was not a new "study" and the authors readily acknowledge the economic research showing very little to no link between farm subsidies and obesity. This study by Okrent and Alston in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, in fact, finds removal of subsidies would increase weight:
Eliminating all subsidies,including trade barriers, would lead to an increase in annual per capita consumption in the range of 165 to 1,435 calories (equivalent to an increase in body weight of 0.03% to 0.23%) [note, however, my previous comment about their weight calculations]
Okrent and Alston conclude:
These results indicate that U.S. farm policy, for the most part, has not made food commodities significantly cheaper and has not had a significant effect on caloric consumption.
Don't, get me wrong. I am not a fan of farm subsidies - largely because they are economically inefficient and reduce the size of the economic pie. But, I think we ought to get the causes and effects right, and it simply isn't true that farm subsidies caused obesity. Moreover, I am not a fan of re-engineering farm subsidies to meet "public health" goals, as the authors of the AJPM article apparently are. Here is their recommendation:
More specifically, sustainable practices should yield biodiverse, quality foods, optimize nonrenewable resources, and sustain the economic viability of farmers. Important policy reforms could direct increasing subsidies to family farms and/or fruit and vegetable growers in the aim of making their prices more competitive
Frankly, I find the recommendation naive, simplistic, and likely to produce unintended consequences whilst simultaneous failing to produce the kind of benefits the authors desire.
On a positive note, I found this table in the paper quite interesting. At first, I thought the table had to be wrong since they have livestock subsidies (and livestock isn't subsidized per se), but apparently they are also adding in payments for crop insurance premiums for different commodities. I wonder if they did they same for all fruits and vegetables? It would also be useful to calculate these subsidies as a percentage of the total value (or revenue) for each crop type for a bit of perspective.