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The effect of physical activity on adult obesity: Evidence from the Canadian NPHS panel


  • Sarma, Sisira
  • Zaric, Gregory S.
  • Campbell, M. Karen
  • Gilliland, Jason


Although physical activity has been considered as an important modifiable risk factor for obesity, the empirical evidence on the relationship between physical activity and obesity is mixed. Observational studies in the public health literature fail to account for time-invariant unobserved heterogeneity and dynamics of weight, leading to biased estimation of the effect of physical activity on obesity. To overcome this limitation, we propose dynamic fixed-effects models to account for unobserved heterogeneity bias and the dynamics of obesity. We use nationally representative longitudinal data on the cohort of adults aged 18–50 years in 1994/95 from Canada's National Population Health Survey and followed them over 16 years. Obesity is measured by BMI (body mass index). After controlling for a wide range of socio-economic factors, the impact of four alternative measures of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) and work-related physical activity (WRPA) are analyzed. The results show that each measure of LTPA exerts a negative effect on BMI and the effects are larger for females. Our key results show that participation in LTPA exceeding 1.5kcal/kg per day (i.e., at least 30min of walking) reduces BMI by about 0.11–0.14 points in males and 0.20 points in females relative to physically inactive counterparts. Compared to those who are inactive at workplace, being able to stand or walk at work is associated with a reduction in BMI in the range of 0.16–0.19 points in males and 0.24–0.28 points in females. Lifting loads at workplace is associated with a reduction in BMI by 0.2–0.3 points in males and 0.3–0.4 points in females relative to those who are reported sedentary. Policies aimed at promotion of LTPA combined with WRPA like walking or climbing stairs daily would help reduce adult obesity risks.

Suggested Citation

  • Sarma, Sisira & Zaric, Gregory S. & Campbell, M. Karen & Gilliland, Jason, 2014. "The effect of physical activity on adult obesity: Evidence from the Canadian NPHS panel," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 14(C), pages 1-21.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:14:y:2014:i:c:p:1-21
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2014.03.002

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    1. Dragone, D. & Ziebarth, N.R., 2015. "Non-Separable Time Preferences and Novelty Consumption: Theory and Evidence from the East German Transition to Capitalism," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 15/28, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    2. Archana Dang & Pushkar Maitra & Nidhiya Menon, 2018. "Labor Market Engagement and the Health of Working Adults: Evidence from India," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series dp-305, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    3. Dang, Archana & Maitra, Pushkar & Menon, Nidhiya, 2017. "Labor Market Engagement and the Health of Working Adults: Evidence from India," IZA Discussion Papers 11118, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Dragone, Davide & Ziebarth, Nicolas R., 2015. "Economic Development, Novelty Consumption, and Body Weight: Evidence from the East German Transition to Capitalism," IZA Discussion Papers 8967, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Archana Dang, 2020. "Role of Time Preferences in Explaining the Burden of Malnutrition: Evidence from Urban India," Working papers 309, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics.
    6. Koffi-Ahoto Kpelitse & Rose Anne Devlin & Sisira Sarma, 2014. "The Effect of Income on Obesity among Canadian Adults," Working Papers 14C002, Canadian Centre for Health Economics.
    7. Marc Brechot & Stephan Nüesch & Egon Franck, 2017. "Does sports activity improve health? Representative evidence using local density of sports facilities as an instrument," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(48), pages 4871-4884, October.
    8. Tao Zhang, 2017. "Modeling the Effect of Physical Activity on Obesity in China: Evidence from the Longitudinal China Health and Nutrition Study 1989–2011," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 14(8), pages 1-10, July.
    9. Dragone, Davide & Ziebarth, Nicolas R., 2017. "Non-separable time preferences, novelty consumption and body weight: Theory and evidence from the East German transition to capitalism," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 41-65.
    10. Hui Chin Koo & Lay Kim Tan & Geok Pei Lim & Chee Cheong Kee & Mohd Azahadi Omar, 2023. "Obesity and Its Association with Undiagnosed Diabetes Mellitus, High Blood Pressure and Hypercholesterolemia in the Malaysian Adult Population: A National Cross-Sectional Study Using NHMS Data," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 20(4), pages 1-18, February.
    11. Maruyama, Shiko & Nakamura, Sayaka, 2018. "Why are women slimmer than men in developed countries?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 1-13.
    12. Brad R. Humphreys & Jane E. Ruseski & Jie Yang, 2020. "Household consumption decisions: will expanding sports betting impact health?," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 18(4), pages 1079-1100, December.
    13. Lenzen, Sabrina & Gannon, Brenda & Rose, Christiern, 2020. "A dynamic microeconomic analysis of the impact of physical activity on cognition among older people," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 39(C).
    14. Sadika Sharmin & Noor Aman Hamid & Wan Abdul Manan Bin Wan Muda, 2021. "Dietary Intake Patterns and Nutritional Status of Food Secure and Insecure Women Garment Factory Workers in Bangladesh," Journal of Food Research, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 9(3), pages 1-1, December.
    15. Harris, Matthew C., 2017. "Imperfect information on physical activity and caloric intake," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 112-125.
    16. Dang, Archana & Maitra, Pushkar & Menon, Nidhiya, 2019. "Labor market engagement and the body mass index of working adults: Evidence from India," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 58-77.

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