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Understanding Overeating and Obesity

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  • Christopher J. Ruhm

Abstract

The combination of economic and biological factors is likely to result in overeating, in the current environment of cheap and readily available food. This propensity is shown using a “dual-decision” approach where choices reflect the interaction between two parts of the brain: a “deliberative” system, operating as in standard economic models, and an “affective” system that responds rapidly to stimuli without considering long-term consequences. This framework is characterized by excess food consumption and body weight, in the sense that individuals prefer both ex-ante and ex-post to eat and weigh less than they actually do, with dieting being common but often unsuccessful or only partially successful. As in the standard model, weight will be related to prices. However, another potentially important reason for rising obesity is that food producers have incentives to engineer products to stimulate the affective system so as to encourage overeating. Data from multiple waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys are used to investigate predictions of the dual-decision model, with the evidence providing broad support for at least some irrationality in food consumption.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16149.

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Date of creation: Jul 2010
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16149

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Cited by:
  1. Strulik, Holger, 2014. "A mass phenomenon: The social evolution of obesity," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 113-125.
  2. 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.
  3. Charles J. Courtemanche & Garth Heutel & Patrick McAlvanah, 2011. "Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity," NBER Working Papers 17483, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Dave, Dhaval M. & Kelly, Inas Rashad, 2012. "How does the business cycle affect eating habits?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 254-262.
  5. Colin Baker & Ralph Bradley, 2013. "The Simultaneous Effects of Obesity, Insurance Choice, and Medical Visit Choice on Healthcare Costs," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring and Modeling Health Care Costs National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Heutel, Garth, 2010. "Optimal Policy Instruments for Externality-Producing Durable Goods under Time Inconsistency," Working Papers 10-5, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Economics.
  7. Augurzky, Boris & Bauer, Thomas K. & Reichert, Arndt R. & Schmidt, Christoph M. & Tauchmann, Harald, 2012. "Does Money Burn Fat? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 6888, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Vani S. Kulkarni & Veena S. Kulkarni & Raghav Gaiha, 2013. "Double burden of malnutrition: Why are Indian women likely to be underweight and obese?," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series 19013, BWPI, The University of Manchester.
  9. Guilhem Lecouteux, 2013. "Reconciling behavioural and neoclassical economics," Working Papers hal-00819763, HAL.
  10. Strulik, Holger, 2012. "A Mass Phenomenon: The Social Evolution of Obesity," Diskussionspapiere der Wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Leibniz Universität Hannover dp-489, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.

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