IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Social norms, ideal body weight and food attitudes


  • Fabrice Etilé

    (INRA, Ivry-sur-Seine, France)


This paper uses French data on ideal body weight and food attitudes to analyse the role of social norms in the individual's weight control problem. A proxy measure of social norms is calculated by averaging individual perceptions of the ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) over all observations within a reference group. Testing for different definitions of the reference group, we find that individual representations of ideal body shape are differentiated mainly along gender and age lines. Social norms regarding body shape have a significant effect on perceptions of ideal BMI only for those women who want to lose weight, with an elasticity close to 0.5. For many women and for all men, ideal BMI is almost exclusively determined by habitual BMI. Last, ideal BMI predicts a number of attitudes towards food, while social norms do not. These results suggest that promoting medical norms regarding body shape should have little effect on individual food attitudes. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Suggested Citation

  • Fabrice Etilé, 2007. "Social norms, ideal body weight and food attitudes," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(9), pages 945-966.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:hlthec:v:16:y:2007:i:9:p:945-966 DOI: 10.1002/hec.1251

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Link to full text; subscription required
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Tomas J. Philipson & Richard A. Posner, 1999. "The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change," Working Papers 9912, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
    3. Charles F. Manski, 1993. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: The Reflection Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(3), pages 531-542.
    4. George A. Akerlof, 1997. "Social Distance and Social Decisions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(5), pages 1005-1028, September.
    5. Andrew Grodner & Thomas Kniesner, 2005. "Labor Supply with Social Interactions: Econometric Estimates and Their Tax Policy Implications," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 69, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    6. Susan Averett & Sanders Korenman, 1996. "The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(2), pages 304-330.
    7. James H. Stock & Motohiro Yogo, 2002. "Testing for Weak Instruments in Linear IV Regression," NBER Technical Working Papers 0284, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Jay Bhattacharya & M. Kate Bundorf, 2005. "The Incidence of the Healthcare Costs of Obesity," NBER Working Papers 11303, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2004:94:9:1555-1559_9 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Paquette, M.-C.Marie-Claude & Raine, Kim, 2004. "Sociocultural context of women's body image," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(5), pages 1047-1058, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. L. Pieroni & D. Lanari & L. Salmasi, 2013. "Food prices and overweight patterns in Italy," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 14(1), pages 133-151, February.
    2. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald & Bert Van Landeghem, 2009. "Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 528-538, 04-05.
    3. Byela Tibesigwa & Martine Visser & Brennan Hodkinson, 2016. "Effects of Objective and Subjective Income Comparisons on Subjective Wellbeing," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 361-389, August.
    4. Clark, Andrew E. & Etilé, Fabrice, 2011. "Happy house: Spousal weight and individual well-being," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 1124-1136.
    5. Gil, Joan & Mora, Toni, 2011. "The determinants of misreporting weight and height: The role of social norms," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 78-91, January.
    6. Caroli, Eve & Weber-Baghdiguian, Lexane, 2016. "Self-reported health and gender: The role of social norms," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 220-229.
    7. Strulik, Holger, 2014. "A mass phenomenon: The social evolution of obesity," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 113-125.
    8. Barbieri, Paolo Nicola, 2015. "Social Distortion in Weight Perception: A Decomposition of the Obesity Epidemic," Working Papers in Economics 639, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    9. Luis Fernando Gamboa & Nohora Y. Forero Ramírez, 2009. "Body mass index as a standard of living measure: a different interpretation for the case of Colombia," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO 005218, UNIVERSIDAD DEL ROSARIO.
    10. Kavetsos, Georgios, 2011. "The impact of physical activity on employment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 775-779.
    11. Radwan, Amr & Gil, Jose M., 2015. "Can Price Intervention Policies Improve Diet Quality in Spain?," 2015 Conference, August 9-14, 2015, Milan, Italy 212698, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    12. Dragone, Davide & Savorelli, Luca, 2012. "Thinness and obesity: A model of food consumption, health concerns, and social pressure," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 243-256.
    13. Georgia S. Papoutsi & Andreas C. Drichoutis & Rodolfo M. Nayga Jr., 2013. "The Causes Of Childhood Obesity: A Survey," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(4), pages 743-767, September.
    14. Dang, Rui, 2015. "Spillover effects of local human capital stock on adult obesity: Evidence from German neighborhoods," Ruhr Economic Papers 585, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    15. Liam Delaney & Arie Kapteyn & James Smith, 2013. "Why do some Irish drink so much? Family, historical and regional effects on students’ alcohol consumption and subjective normative thresholds," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 1-27, March.
    16. Robert S. Goldfarb & Thomas C. Leonard & Sara Markowitz & Steven Suranovic, 2009. "Can A Rational Choice Framework Make Sense of Anorexia Nervosa?," NBER Working Papers 14838, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Ljungvall, Åsa, 2013. "The Freer the Fatter? A Panel Study of the Relationship between Body-Mass Index and Economic Freedom," Working Papers 2013:23, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    18. Etile, Fabrice, 2014. "Education policies and health inequalities: Evidence from changes in the distribution of Body Mass Index in France, 1981–2003," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 13(C), pages 46-65.
    19. Maria Teresa Gorgitano & Ornella Wanda Maietta, 2015. "School Meals and Children Satisfaction. Evidence from Italian Primary Schools," CSEF Working Papers 405, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    20. repec:kap:theord:v:83:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11238-017-9625-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. de Saint Pol, Thibaut, 2009. "Evolution of obesity by social status in France, 1981-2003," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 398-404, December.
    22. repec:dau:papers:123456789/10720 is not listed on IDEAS
    23. Ryota Nakamura & Marc Suhrcke & Daniel John Zizzo, 2017. "A triple test for behavioral economics models and public health policy," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 83(4), pages 513-533, December.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    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:wly:hlthec:v:16:y:2007:i:9:p:945-966. 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: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    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.