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Social distortion in weight perception: a decomposition of the obesity epidemic

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  • Paolo Nicola Barbieri

    (University of Gothenburg)

Abstract

This paper examines the influence of social norms on obesity. We introduce a concept of a social norm related to social distortion in weight perception and developed through shared experiences in a social environment with a high prevalence of obesity. The theoretical model shows that, when obesity is common, it is less likely to be recognized as an issue, as its commonality mitigates an individual’s health concerns. Using regional data from the Health Survey for England, we show through empirical measures that such a social component significantly influences individual weight. We use the marked difference in obesity rates between 2002 and 2006 to perform a Fairlie decomposition analysis. Our findings suggest that when we exclude social norms, the estimates explain 42% of the obesity gap. When we include the social norms, the estimates explain between 46% and 77% of the overall obesity gap. Stratifying the result by gender, we show that men, especially the low-skilled, are more susceptible to social distortion. Similarly, medium- and low-skilled women are more susceptible to environmental pressure than highly-skilled women, who are utterly unaffected by it. In addition, a broader set of environmental pressures affect men. These results suggest that an individual’s concern over his/her body weight is closely related to the actual weight of his/her reference network.

Suggested Citation

  • Paolo Nicola Barbieri, 2022. "Social distortion in weight perception: a decomposition of the obesity epidemic," Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, Springer;Fondazione Edison, vol. 39(2), pages 685-713, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:epolit:v:39:y:2022:i:2:d:10.1007_s40888-022-00266-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s40888-022-00266-8
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Obesity; Non-linear decomposition; Social norms;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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