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Consumer Choice Regarding Food and Health
Department of Agricultural Economics
The costs to society of obesity and other negative health outcomes linked to food consumption are enormous and largely preventable. Obesity correlates more highly with chronic illness than does poverty, smoking, and heavy drinking. Kentucky is one of the highest-ranked states in percentage of overweight and obese adults, and childhood obesity is of special concern. The purpose of this research program is to conduct empirical studies of the importance of health in consumersAE food choices, and to evaluate the effectiveness of food-related programs aimed at improving health.
2009 Project Description
Food consumers are a traditional land-grant clientele who need credible public information. Consumers receive complex, often conflicting health messages regarding food consumption. Understanding how they respond can help educate consumers directly, improve the effectiveness of public health messages, and aid food growers and processors in marketing healthy food. During 2009, two refereed journal articles and a book chapter were published that were relevant to this program. An additional journal article is in second review. Three program-related presentations were given at professional conferences, four grants were active or awarded, three additional grant proposals were submitted and are pending review, one graduate student was employed on program-related projects, and another student's travel expenses to a conference were paid from program-related funds.
I continue to be a member of the Consumer and Market Demand Ag. Policy Research Network, based in Edmonton, Alberta, which provides access to funding and exceptional data sources that are rarely available to academic researchers. The Network disseminates outputs through online working papers and an annual conference attended by researchers, government agency economists, and industry decision makers. Recent research for the Network deals with estimating the impact of BSE (mad cow disease) on consumer beef purchases. Funding from the International Council for Canadian Studies helped support a doctoral student who is writing her dissertation on the impacts of BSE on beef demand.
I am also on the dissertation committee of a doctoral student in the Economics department who is using the Network's data to study supermarket pricing strategy. In November, 2009 we submitted three grant proposals to conduct a large survey of U.S. consumers regarding food safety in beef and pork. The U.S. survey will be a companion to surveys already conducted in Japan and Canada, and confirmation regarding the funding should arrive in December or January.
In October, 2009 I became a planning committee member of Regional Research Project SERA015, Competitiveness and Sustainability of the Southern Dairy Industry. My role includes research on consumer demand for dairy products. The group disseminates its outputs through an annual conference with participation by academics and dairy industry members. My 2009 graduate marketing class performed a service learning project for a dairy products manufacturer. The company, which emphasizes health attributes in its products, hopes to expand its sales to the university food service segment, and my students performed a consumer willingness-to-pay study. Outputs include reports to the company and the University Dining Services director, and a submitted proposal to present the work at a professional conference.
On December 23, 2009, we received the data needed to perform a second-round evaluation of specific health and wellness programs available to employees of the University of Kentucky. This funded project will employ an MS student and hopefully be the basis for her thesis. Outputs will be submitted to University administrators and for academic presentation and publication.
One of the benefits of aligning this research program with membership in the Consumer and Market Demand Network is access to a broad set of government policy makers and private sector decision makers who are actively interested in supporting and using the results from academic research. Research priorities of the Network are largely determined by non-academic stakeholders, and the Network often co-sponsors conferences allowing my research to reach those stakeholders. Likewise, the grant awarded by the International Council for Canadian Studies is motivated by the sponsor's priority on building stronger linkages between the U.S. and Canada. The same is true of a pending grant proposal with the Alberta Institute of American Studies.
Much of my research involves the beef industry, which is one of Kentucky's largest agricultural sectors, one where the U.S./Canada trade linkage is very strong, and one where many health and food consumption issues intersect. The main impacts from the research on BSE were evidence that a large majority of North American consumers behaved as if BSE were primarily a trade issue, although consumer concern grew upon repeated BSE discoveries. Previously, many retail meat suppliers had assumed that a small number of BSE discoveries would be as devastating to domestic consumer demand as it had been to farm-level demand.
Our results, which are specific to North America, allow firms to better target food safety preparedness plans that more effectively safeguard both consumer and supplier welfare. My previous research on the effectiveness of a health and wellness program on medical claim costs concluded that short-term costs actually rose among program participants, but that concurrent increases in preventive care might produce long-run cost reductions. Now that several more years have passed, the University needs to know if costs are indeed falling among program participants. The second-round evaluation for which we just received data will allow the University to make evidence-based programming decisions in an environment of constrained budgets.
The use of a consumer willingness-to-pay service learning project in class gave graduate students real-world experience in conducting a fast-paced, collaborative project requiring research design, survey design, analytical methods not available in other courses, and communication to both business and academic audiences. The results are directly useful to the "client" company in planning its university food service marketing strategy, and the students raised $1,647 in donations by the company to a local children's hospital.
Maynard, L.J. and K. Davidson. (2009). Consumer-Level Determinants of Wine Purchases in Canadian Restaurants. Journal of Wine Economics 4, 35-49.
Maynard, L.J. and M. Mupandawana. (2009). Tipping Behavior in Canadian Restaurants. International Journal of Hospitality Management 28, 597-603.
Saghaian, S., L.J. Maynard, and M.R. Reed. (2009). The Importance of Context in Determining Consumer Response to Food Safety Events: The Case of Mad Cow Disease Discovery in Japan, the United States, and Canada. in Carettas, K.E., editor, Outsourcing, Teamwork and Business Management. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.: 235-265.