There is no evidence to support the claim that farm subsidies — by making fattening foods relatively cheap and abundant — contribute to obesity in the United States, according to an analysis led by UC Davis researchers.

"U.S. farm subsidies have many critics. A variety of arguments and evidence can be presented to show that the programs are ineffective, wasteful or unfair," said Julian Alston, a professor of agricultural economics at UC Davis. "Eliminating farm subsidies could solve some of these problems — but would not even make a dent in America's obesity problem."

According to Alston and his colleagues, farm subsidies have had only very modest, mixed effects on the total availability and prices of farm commodities, and cannot have contributed significantly to the obesity epidemic. In fact, the researchers have shown that the subsidies actually increase consumer prices and discourage consumption of one of the biggest suspects: sugar.

Alston and a team of other UC Davis agricultural economists studied the question with researchers in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and the Iowa State University Department of Economics.

Their conclusions appear in the December 2007 issue of "Agricultural and Resource Economics Update," published by the University of California's Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. It is available online at: http://repositories.cdlib.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1068&context=giannini.