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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.
2011 Project Description
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. Food consumers are a traditional land-grant clientele whose needs for credible public information are stronger than ever.
During 2011, two refereed journal articles were published that are relevant to this Hatch project, and one is in submission. Three program-related presentations were given at professional conferences, three external grants totaling $35,375 were active, three graduate students were employed on program-related grants, two student's travel expenses to conferences were paid from program-related funds, an undergraduate competition team's travel was funded from a program-related grant, and the program directly provided source material for the classroom at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
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 some exceptional data sources that are rarely available to academic researchers. The Network disseminates its 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), country-of-origin labeling, and traceability on consumer purchases of beef in Canada and the United States. Funding from the Network and the Alberta Institute for American Studies supported two doctoral students, one of whom graduated and one of whom passed his oral qualifying exam in 2011. Part of the funding was used to administer a survey in the U.S. that is a companion to surveys already conducted in Japan and Canada.
Two refereed journal articles about BSE impacts on beef consumption were published during 2011. Research on country-of-origin labeling of beef products was presented at a workshop hosted by the Network, and at our national Agricultural and Applied Economics Association meetings.
Aligning this research program with membership in the Consumer and Market Demand Network provides 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 Alberta Institute for American Studies is motivated by the sponsor's priority on building productive ties between the U.S. and Canada.
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. 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.
Results linked response to meat safety issues to purchases of value-added foods such as high omega-3 eggs, allowing firms to better identify relative concern for safety, health, and animal welfare. Regarding country-of-origin labeling, results show that U.S. consumers strongly prefer their home country's meat products, with the strength of that preference increasing for consumers with lower incomes, lower education levels, and higher age. The results can inform ongoing policy debates. In late 2011, for example, country-of-origin labeling was overturned by the World Trade Organization for most foods, but not for meats.
A 2010 willingness-to-pay survey about locally produced milk and cheese had impacts in 2011. The report was a primary output of the Kentucky Milk Commission, and was widely requested and distributed among industry journalists, state government agencies, and producers. In 2011, it contributed to a partnership among state government, producers, a milk bottling company, and a retail chain to market locally produced dairy products. The consulting practicum and competition team class, funded with proceeds from the dairy project mentioned above, had immediate impacts as students were able to participate in a project serving local egg producers who provided eggs for the study.
Wang, X., L.J. Maynard, J.S. Butler, and E. Goddard. (2011). Using Linked Household-Level Datasets to Explain Consumer Response to BSE in Canada. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 74: 1536-1549.
Maynard, L.J. and X. Wang. (2011). Context-Dependent BSE Impacts on Canadian Fresh Beef Purchases. Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing, 23,1: 32-55.