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Childhood Disadvantage and Obesity: Is Nurture Trumping Nature?

In: The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective

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  • Patricia M. Anderson
  • Kristin F. Butcher
  • Diane Whitemore Schanzenbach

Abstract

Obesity has been one of the fastest growing health concerns among children, particularly among disadvantaged children. For children overall, obesity rates have tripled from 5% in the early 1970s to about 15% by the early 2000s. For disadvantaged children, obesity rates are closer to 20%. In this paper, we first examine the impact of various measures of disadvantage on children's weight outcomes over the past 30 years, finding that the disadvantaged have gained weight faster. Over the same period, adult obesity rates have grown, and we expect parental obesity to be closely tied to children's obesity, for reasons of both nature and nurture. Thus, examining changes in the parent-child correlation in BMI should give us some insight into the ways in which the environment that parents and children share has affected children's body mass, or into how the interaction of genes and environment has changed. We find that the elasticity between mothers' and children's BMI has increased since the 1970s, suggesting that shared genetic-environmental factors have become more important in determining obesity. Despite the faster weight gain for the disadvantaged, there appears to be no clear difference for by disadvantaged group in either the parent-child elasticity or in identifiable environmental factors. On average, the increases in parents' BMI between the early 1970s and the early 2000s can explain about 37 percent of the increase in children's BMI. Although common environmental/genetic factors play a larger role now than in earlier time periods, child specific environments such as schools and day care play a potentially important role in determining children's health status.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Jonathan Gruber, 2009. "The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub07-2, July.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 0592.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:0592

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    References

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    1. Bruce Sacerdote, 2007. "How Large Are the Effects from Changes in Family Environment? A Study of Korean American Adoptees," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 122(1), pages 119-157, 02.
    2. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," NBER Working Papers 8946, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Phillip B. Levine, 2002. "Maternal employment and overweight children," Working Paper Series, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago WP-02-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    4. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Phillip B. Levine, 2003. "Economic perspectives on childhood obesity," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q III, pages 30-48.
    6. Shapiro, Jesse & Glaeser, Edward & Cutler, David, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese," Scholarly Articles 2640583, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    7. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher, 2006. "Reading, Writing, and Refreshments: Are School Finances Contributing to Children’s Obesity?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(3).
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    Cited by:
    1. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2009. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," NBER Working Papers 14721, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. 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).
    3. Rajeev Dehejia & Thomas DeLeire & Erzo F. P. Luttmer & Josh Mitchell, 2007. "The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth," NBER Chapters, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, in: The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective, pages 237-274 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Classen, Timothy J., 2010. "Measures of the intergenerational transmission of body mass index between mothers and their children in the United States, 1981-2004," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 30-43, March.
    5. Kevin Milligan & Mark Stabile, 2010. "Do Child Tax Benefits Affect the Wellbeing of Children? Evidence from Canadian Child Benefit Expansions," STICERD - Public Economics Programme Discussion Papers, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE 01, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    6. Papoutsi, Georgia & Drichoutis, Andreas & Nayga, Rodolfo, 2011. "The causes of childhood obesity: A survey," MPRA Paper 30992, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Agne Suziedelyte, 2012. "The effects of old and new media on children's weight," Discussion Papers, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales 2012-37, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
    8. Brown, Heather & Roberts, Jennifer, 2013. "Born to be wide? Exploring correlations in mother and adolescent body mass index," Economics Letters, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 120(3), pages 413-415.
    9. Currie, Janet & DellaVigna, Stefano & Moretti, Enrico & Pathania, Vikram, 2009. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity," Working Papers, American Association of Wine Economists 47830, American Association of Wine Economists.
    10. Stifel, David C. & Averett, Susan L., 2009. "Childhood overweight in the United States: A quantile regression approach," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 387-397, December.

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