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Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating

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  • Trenton Smith

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Abstract

Reconciling Psychology with Economics: Obesity, Behavioral Biology, and Rational Overeating Abstract: The modern phenomenon of obesity is an archetypal example of a behavior whose explanation simultaneously falls within the purview of psychology, economics, and the biological sciences. While psychologists and advocates of public health have long viewed overeating as a weakness or disease in need of treatment, economists have pointed out that "like any other consumer behavior" choices about diet and exercise can be viewed from the perspective of rational decision theory, subject to the influence of variation in price and income but not necessarily as a problem in need of a solution. Recent advances in our understanding of the physiological mechanisms by which genes influence behavior in modern socioeconomic environments have begun to point the way to a resolution to this debate. Drawing inspiration from the scientific literature on the neuroendocrinology of energy homeostasis, this paper reviews the empirical determinants of obesity in light of the biologist’s notion that humans and other animals evolved the ability to store body fat as an optimal response to the presence of starvation risk. This approach yields a powerful theoretical foundation, capturing such features of obesity as dynamic inconsistency, genetic variation, susceptibility to pharmaceutical intervention, and variation by season, socioeconomic status, and degree of financial security. It also provides a framework for reconciling the conflict between behavioral (descriptive) and neoclassical (prescriptive) economics.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Bioeconomics.

Volume (Year): 11 (2009)
Issue (Month): 3 (December)
Pages: 249-282

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Handle: RePEc:kap:jbioec:v:11:y:2009:i:3:p:249-282

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Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=103315

Related research

Keywords: Evolution; Behavioral ecology; Neuroeconomics; Self-control; Serotonin; Nicotine; MDMA; D03; D83; D87; I12;

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  1. 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.
  2. Smith, Trenton G, 2002. "The McDonald's Equilibrium: Advertising, Empty Calories, and the Endogenous Determination of Dietary Preferences," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0hx9x4jr, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  3. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1985. "The Expanding Domain of Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(6), pages 53-68, December.
  9. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2001. "Temptation and Self-Control," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(6), pages 1403-1435, November.
  10. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  11. Jonathan Gruber & Michael Frakes, 2005. "Does Falling Smoking Lead to Rising Obesity?," NBER Working Papers 11483, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Barnes Michael G & Smith Trenton G., 2009. "Tobacco Use as Response to Economic Insecurity: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 9(1), pages 1-29, November.
  13. Shefrin, Hersh M & Thaler, Richard H, 1988. "The Behavioral Life-Cycle Hypothesis," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(4), pages 609-43, October.
  14. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "The Biological Basis of Economic Behavior," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(1), pages 11-33, March.
  15. Smith, Trenton G. & Tasnadi, Attila, 2005. "A Theory of Natural Addiction," 2005 Annual meeting, July 24-27, Providence, RI 19195, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
  16. Smith Trenton G. & Stoddard Christiana & Barnes Michael G, 2009. "Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 1-31, June.
  17. Ainslie, George, 1991. "Derivation of "Rational" Economic Behavior from Hyperbolic Discount Curves," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 334-40, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Stutzer, Alois, 2007. "Limited Self-Control, Obesity and the Loss of Happiness," IZA Discussion Papers 2925, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Avner Offer & Rachel Pechey and Stanley Ulijaszek, 2010. "Obesity under affluence varies by welfare regimes: The effect of fast food, insecurity, and inequality," Economics Series Working Papers Number 82, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  3. Raymundo M. Campos-Vazquez & Emilio Cuilty, 2013. "The role of emotions on risk aversion: a prospect theory experiment," Serie documentos de trabajo del Centro de Estudios Económicos 2013-05, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos.
  4. Venturini, Luciano, 2006. "Food and Health: A European Perspective," Conference Papers 6684, University of Minnesota, Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy.
  5. Trenton Smith & Christiana Stoddard & Michael G. Barnes, 2007. "Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity," Working Papers 2007-16, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  6. 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.

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