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Differences in the U.S. Trends in the Prevalence of Obesity Based on Body Mass Index and Skinfold Thickness

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  • Richard V. Burkhauser
  • John Cawley
  • Maximilian D. Schmeiser

Abstract

There are several ways to measure fatness and obesity, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The primary measure for tracking the prevalence of obesity has historically been body mass index (BMI). This paper compares long-run trends in the prevalence of obesity when obesity is defined using skinfold thickness instead of body mass index (BMI), using data from the full series of U.S. National Health Examination Surveys. The results indicate that when one uses skinfold thicknesses rather than BMI to define obesity, the rise in the prevalence of obesity is detectable ten to twenty years earlier. This underscores the importance of examining multiple measures of fatness when monitoring or otherwise studying obesity.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15005.

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Date of creation: May 2009
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Publication status: published as Burkhauser, Richard V., John Cawley, and Maximilian D. Schmeiser. 2009. “The Timing of the Rise in U.S. Obesity Varies With Measure of Fatness.” Economics and Human Biology, 7(3): 307-318.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15005

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  1. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Phillip B. Levine, 2002. "Maternal employment and overweight children," Working Paper Series WP-02-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  2. Dean Jolliffe, 2004. "Continuous and robust measures of the overweight epidemic: 1971–2000," Demography, Springer, vol. 41(2), pages 303-314, May.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. Shapiro, Jesse & Glaeser, Edward & Cutler, David, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese," Scholarly Articles 2640583, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Gruber, Jonathan & Frakes, Michael, 2006. "Does falling smoking lead to rising obesity?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 183-197, March.
  7. John Cawley & Richard V. Burkhauser, 2006. "Beyond BMI: The Value of More Accurate Measures of Fatness and Obesity in Social Science Research," NBER Working Papers 12291, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Chou, Shin-Yi & Grossman, Michael & Saffer, Henry, 2004. "An economic analysis of adult obesity: results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 565-587, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Howard Bodenhorn & Gregory Price, 2009. "Crime and Body Weight in the Nineteenth Century: Was there a Relationship between Brawn, Employment Opportunities and Crime?," NBER Working Papers 15099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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