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Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity

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  • Smith Trenton G.

    ()
    (Washington State University)

  • Stoddard Christiana

    ()
    (Montana State University)

  • Barnes Michael G

    ()
    (Hartford Life)

Abstract

Something about being poor makes people fat. Though there are many possible explanations for the income-body weight gradient, we investigate a promising but little-studied hypothesis: that changes in body weight can—at least in part—be explained as an optimal response to economic insecurity. We use data on working-age men from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) to identify the effects of various measures of economic insecurity on weight gain. We find in particular that over the 12-year period between 1988 and 2000, the average man gained about 21 pounds. A one percentage point (0.01) increase in the probability of becoming unemployed causes weight gain over this period to increase by about 0.6 pounds, and each realized 50% drop in annual income results in an increase of about 5 pounds. The mechanism also appears to work in reverse, with health insurance and intrafamily transfers protecting against weight gain.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal Forum for Health Economics & Policy.

Volume (Year): 12 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
Pages: 1-31

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Handle: RePEc:bpj:fhecpo:v:12:y:2009:i:2:n:5

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References

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  1. Smith, Trenton G. & Tasnadi, Attila, 2007. "A theory of natural addiction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 316-344, May.
  2. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Trenton G. Smith, 2004. "The McDonald’s Equilibrium. Advertising, empty calories, and the endogenous determination of dietary preferences," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 23(3), pages 383-413, December.
  4. Albert J. Reed & J. William Levedahl & Charles Hallahan, 2005. "The Generalized Composite Commodity Theorem and Food Demand Estimation," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(1), pages 28-37.
  5. Trenton Smith, 2009. "Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 249-282, December.
  6. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," Working Papers 0203, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  7. Nord, Mark & Andrews, Margaret S. & Carlson, Steven, 2004. "Household Food Security In The United States, 2003," Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Reports 33835, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  8. Ruhm, Christopher J., 2003. "Healthy Living in Hard Times," IZA Discussion Papers 711, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Christopher J. Ruhm, 1996. "Are Recessions Good For Your Health?," NBER Working Papers 5570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2002. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1308-1334, December.
  11. Partha Dasgupta & Eric Maskin, 2005. "Uncertainty and Hyperbolic Discounting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1290-1299, September.
  12. Gruber, Jonathan & Frakes, Michael, 2006. "Does falling smoking lead to rising obesity?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 183-197, March.
  13. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
  14. Cutler, David & Shapiro, Jesse & Glaeser, Edward, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese," Scholarly Articles 2640583, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  15. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  16. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1976. "Equilibrium in Competitive Insurance Markets: An Essay on the Economics of Imperfect Information," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 630-49, November.
  17. Shin-Yi Chou & Michael Grossman & Henry Saffer, 2002. "An Economic Analysis of Adult Obesity: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," NBER Working Papers 9247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Kowalski Amanda E. & Congdon William J. & Showalter Mark H., 2008. "State Health Insurance Regulations and the Price of High-Deductible Policies," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(2), pages 1-26, November.
  19. Jay Bhattacharya & Neeraj Sood, 2005. "Health Insurance and the Obesity Externality," NBER Working Papers 11529, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Trenton Smith & Hayley Chouinard & Philip Wandschneider, 2009. "Waiting for the Invisible Hand: Market Power and Endogenous Information in the Modern Market for Food," Working Papers 2009-07, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  2. Hübler, Olaf, 2012. "Are Tall People Less Risk Averse than Others?," IZA Discussion Papers 6441, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Konstantinos Eleftheriou & George Athanasiou & Periklis Kougoulis, 2013. "Labour market, obesity and public policy considerations," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 33(1), pages 783-793.
  4. R Nakamura & L Siciliani, 2010. "Education and Body Mass Index: Evidence from ECHP," Discussion Papers 10/04, Department of Economics, University of York.
  5. Alexiadis, Stilianos & Eleftheriou, Konstantinos, 2011. "Health is wealth: an empirical note across the US states," MPRA Paper 33517, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  6. Sergi Jiménez-Martín & Federico A. Todeschini & José María Labeaga, 2010. "Killing by Lung Cancer or by Diabetes? The Trade-off Between Smoking and Obesity," Working Papers 465, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  7. Trenton Smith, 2006. "Reconciling Psychology with Economics - Obesity, Behavioral Biology, and Rational Overeating," Working Papers 2006-4, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  8. Offer, Avner & Pechey, Rachel & Ulijaszek, Stanley, 2010. "Obesity under affluence varies by welfare regimes: The effect of fast food, insecurity, and inequality," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 297-308, December.
  9. Trenton Smith & Hayley Chouinard & Philip Wandschneider, 2009. "Waiting for the Invisible Hand: Novel Products and the Role of Information in the Modern Market for Food," Working Papers 2009-07, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  10. Todeschini, F.; & Labeaga, J.; & Jiménez-Martín, S.;, 2010. "Death by lung cancer or by diabetes? The unintended consequences of quitting smoking," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 10/16, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  11. Smith, Trenton G. & Stillman, Steven & Craig, Stuart, 2013. "The U.S. Obesity Epidemic:New Evidence from the Economic Security Index," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 151419, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  12. Akee, Randall K. Q. & Simeonova, Emilia & Copeland, William & Angold, Adrian & Costello, Jane E., 2010. "Does More Money Make You Fat? The Effects of Quasi-Experimental Income Transfers on Adolescent and Young Adult Obesity," IZA Discussion Papers 5135, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  13. Averett, Susan L. & Smith, Julie K., 2012. "Indebted and Overweight: The Link Between Weight and Household Debt," IZA Discussion Papers 6898, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Srinivasan, C.S., 2013. "Can adherence to dietary guidelines address excess caloric intake? An empirical assessment for the UK," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 574-591.
  15. Ljungvall, Åsa, 2013. "The Freer the Fatter? A Panel Study of the Relationship between Body-Mass Index and Economic Freedom," Working Papers 2013:23, Lund University, Department of Economics.
  16. Wehby, George L. & Murray, Jeffrey C. & Wilcox, Allen & Lie, Rolv T., 2012. "Smoking and body weight: Evidence using genetic instruments," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 113-126.

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