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Is Poor Fitness Contagious? Evidence from Randomly Assigned Friends

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  • Scott E. Carrell
  • Mark Hoekstra
  • James E. West

Abstract

The increase in obesity over the past thirty years has led researchers to investigate the role of social networks as a contributing factor. However, several challenges make it difficult to demonstrate a causal link between friends’ physical fitness and own fitness using observational data. To overcome these problems, we exploit data from a unique setting in which individuals are randomly assigned to peer groups. We find statistically significant peer effects that are 40 to 70 percent as large as the own effect of prior fitness scores on current fitness outcomes. Evidence suggests that the effects are caused primarily by friends who were the least fit, thus supporting the provocative notion that poor physical fitness spreads on a person-to-person basis.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16518.

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Date of creation: Nov 2010
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Publication status: published as Carrell, Scott E. & Hoekstra, Mark & West, James E., 2011. "Is poor fitness contagious?: Evidence from randomly assigned friends," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7-8), pages 657-663, August.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16518

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  1. 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.
  2. Foster, Gigi, 2006. "It's not your peers, and it's not your friends: Some progress toward understanding the educational peer effect mechanism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 90(8-9), pages 1455-1475, September.
  3. Ethan Cohen-Cole & Jason M. Fletcher, 2008. "Is obesity contagious?: social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic," Risk and Policy Analysis Unit Working Paper, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston QAU08-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  4. Stinebrickner, Ralph & Stinebrickner, Todd R., 2006. "What can be learned about peer effects using college roommates? Evidence from new survey data and students from disadvantaged backgrounds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 90(8-9), pages 1435-1454, September.
  5. Scott E. Carrell & Richard L. Fullerton & James E. West, 2009. "Does Your Cohort Matter? Measuring Peer Effects in College Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(3), pages 439-464, 07.
  6. Zimmerman, David J., 1999. "Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes: Evidence From a Natural Experiment," Williams Project on the Economics of Higher Education, Department of Economics, Williams College DP-52, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  7. Scott E. Carrell & Frederick V. Malmstrom & James E. West, 2008. "Peer Effects in Academic Cheating," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
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Cited by:
  1. Loh, Chung-Ping A. & Li, Qiang, 2013. "Peer effects in adolescent bodyweight: Evidence from rural China," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 35-44.
  2. Redzo Mujcic & Paul Frijters, 2013. "Conspicuous Consumption, Conspicuous Health, and Optimal Taxation," Discussion Papers Series 483, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
  3. Asirvatham, Jebaraj & Nayga, Rodolfo M. Jr. & Thomsen, Michael R., 2013. "Peer-Effects on Childhood Obesity," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C., Agricultural and Applied Economics Association 150417, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  4. Dahl, Gordon B. & Loken, Katrine Vellesen & Mogstad, Magne, 2012. "Peer Effects in Program Participation," IZA Discussion Papers 6681, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Kapinos, Kandice A. & Yakusheva, Olga & Eisenberg, Daniel, 2014. "Obesogenic environmental influences on young adults: Evidence from college dormitory assignments," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 98-109.
  6. Gibbons, Steve & Telhaj, Shqiponja, 2012. "Peer Effects: Evidence from Secondary School Transition in England," IZA Discussion Papers 6455, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Ryota Nakamura & Marc Suhrcke & Daniel John Zizzo, 2014. "A Triple Test for Behavioral Economics Models and Public Health Policy," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS), School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. 14-01, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..

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