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The McDonald’s Equilibrium. Advertising, empty calories, and the endogenous determination of dietary preferences

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  • Trenton G. Smith

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Abstract

A comparison of accepted nutritional advice with actual American dietary practice suggests that many people fail to eat well in spite of well-documented health consequences. Popular culture often labels the worst offenders as lacking in “self-control,” and many blame the aggressive advertising campaigns of the fast-food and snack-food industries for manipulating consumers into poor diets, but these conclusions are not easily reconciled with a neoclassical approach to economic decision theory. This essay considers the consumer’s “diet problem” in light of emerging evidence from the medical and behavioral sciences. In particular, it is argued that human evolution in the distant past resulted in an elegant solution to this problem (of search for a suitable diet in an uncertain environment), which any neoclassical economist would recognize. In modern environments, however, the signals that formerly provided information in the consumer’s search problem are subject to manipulation by food-producing firms. Confirmation by molecular biologists that many human responses to these signals are firmly encoded in our genes suggests a need to re-evaluate the welfare economics of the food industry. Copyright Springer-Verlag 2004

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  • Trenton G. Smith, 2004. "The McDonald’s Equilibrium. Advertising, empty calories, and the endogenous determination of dietary preferences," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 23(3), pages 383-413, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:23:y:2004:i:3:p:383-413
    DOI: 10.1007/s00355-003-0265-3
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    Cited by:

    1. Berg, Nathan & Kim, Jeong-Yoo, 2010. "Demand for Self Control: A model of Consumer Response to Programs and Products that Moderate Consumption," MPRA Paper 26593, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Fabrice Etilé, 2009. "Compte rendu d'ouvrage - Fat Economics: Nutrition, Health, and Economic Policy," Review of Agricultural and Environmental Studies - Revue d'Etudes en Agriculture et Environnement, INRA Department of Economics, vol. 90(3), pages 343-346.
    3. Perez Truglia, Ricardo Nicolas, 2009. "On the genesis of Hedonic Adaptation," MPRA Paper 19929, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Levy, Amnon, 2007. "A theoretical analysis of rational diet of healthy and junk foods," Economics Working Papers wp07-01, School of Economics, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia.
    5. Trenton G. Smith & Attila Tasnádi, 2014. "The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 96(2), pages 533-541.
    6. Venturini, Luciano, 2006. "Food and Health: A European Perspective," Conference Papers 6684, University of Minnesota, Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy.
    7. Trenton Smith & Hayley Chouinard & Philip Wandschneider, 2009. "Waiting for the Invisible Hand: Market Power and Endogenous Information in the Modern Market for Food," Working Papers 2009-07, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
    8. 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.
    9. Jo, Jisung & Lusk, Jayson L. & Muller, Laurent & Ruffieux, Bernard, 2016. "Value of parsimonious nutritional information in a framed field experiment," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 124-133.
    10. Graham, Hope E. & Vestal, Mallory K. & Guerrero, Bridget L., 2015. ""Go-Slow-Whoa!": Will Nutritional Information Influence Adolescent Food Choices and Lead to a Healthier Generation?," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 206007, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association;Western Agricultural Economics Association.
    11. Boizot-Szantai, Christine & Etile, Fabrice, 2005. "The Food Prices / Body Mass Index Relationship: Theory and Evidence from a Sample of French Adults," 2005 International Congress, August 23-27, 2005, Copenhagen, Denmark 24734, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    12. Smith, Trenton G. & Tasnadi, Attila, 2007. "A theory of natural addiction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 316-344, May.
    13. 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.
    14. Réquillart, Vincent & Soler, Louis-Georges & Zang, Yu, 2016. "Quality standards versus nutritional taxes: Health and welfare impacts with strategic firms," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 268-285.
    15. Smith, Trenton G. & Chouinard, Hayley H. & Wandschneider, Philip R., 2011. "Waiting for the invisible hand: Novel products and the role of information in the modern market for food," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 239-249, April.
    16. Thunström, Linda, 2007. "The Marginal Willingness-to-Pay for Health Related Food Characteristics," Umeå Economic Studies 724, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
    17. Trenton Smith, 2009. "Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 249-282, December.
    18. Just, David R. & Mancino, Lisa & Wansink, Brian, 2007. "Could Behavioral Economics Help Improve Diet Quality for Nutrition Assistance Program Participants?," Economic Research Report 6391, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    19. Young H. Lee & Trenton G. Smith, 2008. "Why Are Americans Addicted To Baseball? An Empirical Analysis Of Fandom In Korea And The United States," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(1), pages 32-48, January.
    20. Babutsidze, Zakaria & Cowan, Robin, 2009. "Inertia, Interaction and Clustering in Demand," MERIT Working Papers 045, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).

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