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Childhood Disadvantage and Obesity: Is Nurture Trumping Nature?

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  • Patricia M. Anderson
  • Kristin F. Butcher
  • Diane Whitmore 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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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13479.

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Date of creation: Oct 2007
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Publication status: published as Childhood Disadvantage and Obesity: Is Nurture Trumping Nature? , Patricia M. Anderson, Kristin F. Butcher, Diane Whitemore Schanzenbach. in The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective , Gruber. 2009
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13479

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  1. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1994, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  2. Anderson, Patricia M. & Butcher, Kristin F. & Levine, Phillip B., 2003. "Maternal employment and overweight children," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 477-504, May.
  3. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Phillip B. Levine, 2003. "Economic perspectives on childhood obesity," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q III, pages 30-48.
  4. 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.
  5. 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, vol. 122(1), pages 119-157, 02.
  6. 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).
  7. Shapiro, Jesse & Glaeser, Edward & Cutler, David, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese," Scholarly Articles 2640583, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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Cited by:
  1. Papoutsi, Georgia & Drichoutis, Andreas & Nayga, Rodolfo, 2011. "The causes of childhood obesity: A survey," MPRA Paper 30992, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2010. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 32-63, August.
  3. 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).
  4. Kevin Milligan & Mark Stabile, 2011. "Do Child Tax Benefits Affect the Well-Being of Children? Evidence from Canadian Child Benefit Expansions," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 175-205, August.
  5. 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, vol. 8(1), pages 30-43, March.
  6. Agne Suziedelyte, 2012. "The effects of old and new media on children's weight," Discussion Papers 2012-37, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  7. Dehejia, Rajeev & DeLeiere, Thomas & Luttmer, Erzo F. P. & Mitchell, Joshua, 2007. "The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth," Working Paper Series rwp07-037, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  8. Currie, Janet & DellaVigna, Stefano & Moretti, Enrico & Pathania, Vikram, 2009. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity," Working Papers 47830, American Association of Wine Economists.
  9. Brown, Heather & Roberts, Jennifer, 2013. "Born to be wide? Exploring correlations in mother and adolescent body mass index," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 120(3), pages 413-415.
  10. Stifel, David C. & Averett, Susan L., 2009. "Childhood overweight in the United States: A quantile regression approach," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 387-397, December.

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