Economics and Obesity Policy

The International Journal of Obesity just released a a short review paper I was invited to write, which discusses the economics of policies aimed at reducing obesity. In the paper, I touch on the economic approach for thinking about government intervention in this space and whether there are market failures that would justify intervention.  I then move on to discuss a variety of specific issues that are often discussed in relation to obesity such as farm policy, soda taxes, healthy food subsidies, food assistance programs (and proposed restrictions on them), and information policies. 

Here is the conclusion:

This article presented a somewhat pessimistic view on the ability of government policy to substantively influence obesity prevalence. Obesity is a complicated and multifaceted issue. So too are the effects of anti-obesity policies. One response is to argue for an all-out ‘war’ on obesity. It probably is true that government policy mandating what farms grow, restricting the
supply and type of food to consumers, and controlling prices, offerings and advertisements by food manufacturers could reduce obesity prevalence. But, is this the type of coercive
society in which we would like to live? Society faces very real tradeoffs between economic freedom, technological progress, and obesity prevalence. These sorts of tradeoffs are unfortunate, but they reflect very real constraints to effective economic policy making.

My paper joins several others that critically evaluate anti-obesity policies.