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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.
2010 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.
During 2010, one refereed journal article was accepted that is relevant to this Hatch project, and one is in submission. Two reports to sponsors were delivered, four presentations were given at professional conferences, five external grants totaling $56,500 were active, three graduate students were employed on program-related grants, 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 supports two doctoral students who are writing dissertations on these topics. 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. A refereed journal article about BSE impacts on beef consumption was accepted during 2010, a presentation of the BSE research was given at the first joint seminar of the main European and North American agricultural economics associations, and a working paper about country-of-origin labeling and traceability was recently posted on the Network's website.
During 2010, the Kentucky Milk Commission funded a willingness-to-pay study for locally produced milk. A survey was designed, administered, and analyzed. The resulting report was delivered to the Commission with an accompanying presentation, and the findings were later presented to the State Senate Agriculture Committee. A refereed journal manuscript is currently being prepared. Until mid-2010 I was a planning committee member of Regional Research Project SERA015, Competitiveness and Sustainability of the Southern Dairy Industry. My role in the project includes research on consumer demand for dairy products. The group disseminates its outputs through an annual conference with equal participation by academics and dairy industry members, which I attended.
Throughout 2010, we received funding and data to perform a second-round evaluation of specific health and wellness programs available to employees of the University of Kentucky. This project employs an MS student and is the basis for her thesis. She and a colleague presented preliminary results to University administrators, and she is submitting a proposal for a conference presentation before the end of the year.
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 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. We have new results linking 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, preliminary results show that consumer preferences for their home country's meat products are sensitive to demographic and attitudinal factors. The results are intended to inform ongoing policy debates, including a World Trade Organization complaint lodged against the U.S.
My previous research on the effectiveness of a wellness program on medical 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, we find that long-term participation in the program is in fact associated with lower insurance claim costs. The second-round evaluation allows the University to make evidence-based programming decisions in an environment of constrained budgets. Over one million dollars per year are at stake in this case.
The willingness-to-pay survey about locally produced milk and cheese was a primary output of the Kentucky Milk Commission this year, and the report has been requested by industry journalists and state government agencies. The report has been widely distributed among many of Kentucky's leading dairy producers, and is one of the only publicly available sources of information for farmers and investors on the market potential of locally produced dairy products.
Maynard, L.J. and X. Wang. (2011). Context-Dependent BSE Impacts on Canadian Fresh Beef Purchases. Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing, accepted 2010, forthcoming 2011.
Lim, K.H., L. Maynard, W. Hu, and E. Goddard. 2010. Does Country of Origin Labeling Make Canadian and Australian Beef Less Valuable to U.S. Consumers? Consumer and Market Demand Network Working Paper, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.
Maynard, L.J. and C. Thompson. 2010. Support for Local Dairy Products Among Kentucky Consumers. Report to the Kentucky Milk Commission, Frankfort, KY.