Essays on food assistance program participation and demand for food
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Household food demand and choices over food products are constantly evolving. Therefore better understanding of the relationship among household socioeconomic characteristics, expenditures, foods and nutrient choices of consumers and food prices is important to food producers, health professionals, policymakers and educators. This dissertation is a collection of three papers, each analyzing a particular issue related to consumer behavior. The first two papers explore two important issues related to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that have not been extensively addressed in the past. First, although the WIC program is primarily devised with the intent of improving the nutrition of "targeted" children and mothers, it is possible that WIC may also change the consumption of foods by non-targeted individuals within the household. Second, although WIC eligibility status is predetermined, participation in the program is voluntary and therefore potentially endogenous. Although the two papers address similar topics, they differ in empirical approach. The first paper uses a two-stage instrumental variables approach and the second paper uses a Bayesian approach in order to handle the endogeneity of WIC program participation. Findings from these two papers indicate that based on the specification of the empirical model the choice of the estimation method can play an important role on the final outcome of the research. The third paper of this dissertation examines consumer demand for grain products. Given the public health interest in increased consumption of whole grains, demand for different types of cereals, both refined and whole grain is estimated. Bayesian methods are employed in the estimation accounting for the censoring of the dependent variables. Results show that demand for all types of cereals is inelastic to changes in prices. The expenditure elasticities do not vary widely in the magnitude. The expenditure elasticity is slightly above unity for the whole grain ready-to-eat cereals suggesting that as the expenditure on cereals increases households will allocate proportionally more on whole-grain ready-to-eat cereals and less on other cereals.