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Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating

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  • Trenton Smith

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Reconciling Psychology with Economics: Obesity, Behavioral Biology, and Rational Overeating Abstract: The modern phenomenon of obesity is an archetypal example of a behavior whose explanation simultaneously falls within the purview of psychology, economics, and the biological sciences. While psychologists and advocates of public health have long viewed overeating as a weakness or disease in need of treatment, economists have pointed out that "like any other consumer behavior" choices about diet and exercise can be viewed from the perspective of rational decision theory, subject to the influence of variation in price and income but not necessarily as a problem in need of a solution. Recent advances in our understanding of the physiological mechanisms by which genes influence behavior in modern socioeconomic environments have begun to point the way to a resolution to this debate. Drawing inspiration from the scientific literature on the neuroendocrinology of energy homeostasis, this paper reviews the empirical determinants of obesity in light of the biologist’s notion that humans and other animals evolved the ability to store body fat as an optimal response to the presence of starvation risk. This approach yields a powerful theoretical foundation, capturing such features of obesity as dynamic inconsistency, genetic variation, susceptibility to pharmaceutical intervention, and variation by season, socioeconomic status, and degree of financial security. It also provides a framework for reconciling the conflict between behavioral (descriptive) and neoclassical (prescriptive) economics.
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  • Trenton Smith, 2009. "Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 249-282, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbioec:v:11:y:2009:i:3:p:249-282 DOI: 10.1007/s10818-009-9067-8
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    10. Smith Trenton G. & Stoddard Christiana & Barnes Michael G, 2009. "Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 1-31, June.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Venturini, Luciano, 2006. "Food and Health: A European Perspective," Conference Papers 6684, University of Minnesota, Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy.
    2. Offer, Avner & Pechey, Rachel & Ulijaszek, Stanley, 2010. "Obesity under affluence varies by welfare regimes: The effect of fast food, insecurity, and inequality," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, pages 297-308.
    3. 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.
    4. Currie, Phillippa & Smith, Trenton G. & Stillman, Steven, 2014. "Is Job Insecurity Making Australians Fat? Evidence from Panel Data on Perceived Risk of Job Loss," 2014 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2014, Minneapolis, Minnesota 170720, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    5. Banterle, Alessandro & Cavaliere, Alessia, 2014. "Is there a relationship between product attributes, nutrition labels and excess weight? Evidence from an Italian region," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(P1), pages 241-249.
    6. Smith Trenton G. & Stoddard Christiana & Barnes Michael G, 2009. "Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, pages 1-31.
    7. Barnes Michael G & Smith Trenton G., 2009. "Tobacco Use as Response to Economic Insecurity: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 9(1), pages 1-29, November.
    8. Smith, Trenton G. & Stillman, Steven & Craig, Stuart, 2013. "The U.S. Obesity Epidemic:New Evidence from the Economic Security Index," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 151419, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    9. Campos-Vazquez, Raymundo M. & Cuilty, Emilio, 2014. "The role of emotions on risk aversion: A Prospect Theory experiment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 1-9.
    10. Staudigel, Matthias, 2016. "A soft pillow for hard times? Economic insecurity, food intake and body weight in Russia," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 198-212.
    11. Staudigel, Matthias, 2015. "A soft pillow for hard times: Effects of economic insecurity on body weight in transitional Russia," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205189, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association;Western Agricultural Economics Association.
    12. Smith, Trenton G. & Stillman, Steven & Craig, Stuart, 2017. "'Rational Overeating' in a Feast-or-Famine World: Economic Insecurity and the Obesity Epidemic," IZA Discussion Papers 10954, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Evolution; Behavioral ecology; Neuroeconomics; Self-control; Serotonin; Nicotine; MDMA; D03; D83; D87; I12;

    JEL classification:

    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • R10 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - General

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