IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/eee/jhecon/v27y2008i2p519-529.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research

Author

Listed:
  • Burkhauser, Richard V.
  • Cawley, John

Abstract

Virtually all social science research related to obesity studies a person's body mass index (BMI). Yet there is wide agreement in the medical literature that BMI is seriously flawed because it does not distinguish fat from fat-free mass such as muscle and bone. This paper studies data that include multiple measures of fatness and finds that many important patterns, such as who is classified as obese, group rates of obesity, and correlations of obesity with social science outcomes, are all sensitive to the measure of fatness and obesity used. We show that, relative to percent body fat, BMI misclassifies substantial fractions of individuals as obese or non-obese; in general, BMI is less accurate classifying men than women. Furthermore, when percent body fat instead of BMI is used to define obesity, the gap in obesity between white and African American men increases substantially but the gap in obesity between African American and white women is cut in half. Finally, total body fat is negatively correlated with employment for some groups and fat-free mass is not significantly correlated with employment for any group, a difference that was obscured in previous research that studied BMI. In the long run, social science datasets should include more accurate measures of fatness. In the short run, estimating more accurate measures of fatness using height and weight is not possible except by making unattractive assumptions, but there is also no reason to adhere uncritically to BMI as a measure of fatness. Social science research on obesity would be enriched by greater consideration of alternate specifications of weight and height and more accurate measures of fatness.

Suggested Citation

  • Burkhauser, Richard V. & Cawley, John, 2008. "Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 519-529, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jhecon:v:27:y:2008:i:2:p:519-529
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167-6296(07)00113-0
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only
    ---><---

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Richard V. Burkhauser & John Cawley, 2004. "Obesity, Disability, and Movement Onto the Disability Insurance Rolls," Working Papers wp089, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    2. 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.
    3. Dean Jolliffe, 2004. "Continuous and robust measures of the overweight epidemic: 1971–2000," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(2), pages 303-314, May.
    4. 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.
    5. Dalton Conley & Rebecca Glauber, 2005. "Gender, Body Mass and Economic Status," NBER Working Papers 11343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Darius Lakdawalla & Dana Goldman & Jay Bhattacharya, 2001. "Are the Young Becoming More Disabled?," NBER Working Papers 8247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Ferraro, K.F. & Su, Y.-P. & Gretebeck, R.J. & Black, D.R. & Badylak, S.F., 2002. "Body mass index and disability in adulthood: A 20-year panel study," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 92(5), pages 834-840.
    8. John Cawley & Sheldon Danziger, 2005. "Morbid obesity and the transition from welfare to work," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(4), pages 727-743.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Richard Burkhauser & John Cawley, 2006. "The Importance of Objective Health Measures in Predicting Early Receipt of Social Security Benefits: The Case of Fatness," Working Papers wp148, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    2. Jolliffe, Dean, 2011. "Overweight and poor? On the relationship between income and the body mass index," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 342-355.
    3. Courtemanche, Charles & Pinkston, Joshua C. & Stewart, Jay, 2015. "Adjusting body mass for measurement error with invalid validation data," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 275-293.
    4. Charles L. Baum, 2011. "The Effects of Food Stamps on Obesity," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 623-651, January.
    5. Richard V. Burkhauser & John Cawley & Maximilian D. Schmeiser, 2009. "Differences in the U.S. Trends in the Prevalence of Obesity Based on Body Mass Index and Skinfold Thickness," NBER Working Papers 15005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Barone, Adriana & O'Higgins, Niall, 2010. "Fat and out in Salerno and its province: Adolescent obesity and early school leaving in Southern Italy," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 44-57, March.
    7. Cawley, John & Han, Euna & Norton, Edward C., 2009. "Obesity and labor market outcomes among legal immigrants to the United States from developing countries," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 153-164, July.
    8. Renna, F. & Thakur, Nidhi, 2010. "Direct and indirect effects of obesity on U.S. labor market outcomes of older working age adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 405-413, July.
    9. Alberto Gago & Xavier Labandeira & Xiral López Otero, 2014. "A Panorama on Energy Taxes and Green Tax Reforms," Hacienda Pública Española / Review of Public Economics, IEF, vol. 208(1), pages 145-190, March.
    10. Chouinard, Hayley H & Davis, David E. & LaFrance, Jeffrey T. & Perloff, Jeffrey M, 2005. "The Effects of a Fat Tax on Dairy Products," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt60t1f3tn, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
    11. Brunello, Giorgio & D'Hombres, Beatrice, 2007. "Does body weight affect wages?: Evidence from Europe," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 1-19, March.
    12. Alois Stutzer & Armando N. Meier, 2016. "Limited Self‐control, Obesity, and the Loss of Happiness," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(11), pages 1409-1424, November.
    13. Julian M. Alston & Joanna P. MacEwan & Abigail M. Okrent, 2016. "Effects of U.S. Public Agricultural R&D on U.S. Obesity and its Social Costs," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 38(3), pages 492-520.
    14. Alessia CAVALIERE & Elisa DE MARCHI & Alessandro BANTERLE, 2013. "Time preference and health: the problem of obesity," Departmental Working Papers 2013-13, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
    15. Trenton Smith, 2009. "Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 249-282, December.
    16. John Tomer, 2011. "What Causes Obesity? And Why Has It Grown So Much?," Challenge, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 54(4), pages 22-49.
    17. 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.
    18. Michael L. Anderson & David A. Matsa, 2011. "Are Restaurants Really Supersizing America?," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 152-188, January.
    19. Huffman, Sonya K. & Rizov, Marian, 2007. "Determinants of obesity in transition economies: The case of Russia," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 379-391, December.
    20. Qi Zhang & Zhuo Chen & Norou Diawara & Youfa Wang, 2011. "Prices of Unhealthy Foods, Food Stamp Program Participation, and Body Weight Status Among U.S. Low-Income Women," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 32(2), pages 245-256, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:jhecon:v:27:y:2008:i:2:p:519-529. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Nithya Sathishkumar). General contact details of provider: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505560 .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.