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Native American Obesity: An Economic Model of the "Thrifty Gene" Theory

Author

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  • Richards, Timothy J.
  • Patterson, Paul M.

Abstract

Native American obesity and the associated health conditions are generally thought to result in part from a genetic predisposition to overeating fats and carbohydrates, called the "thrifty gene." Although coined by nutritional scientists, this study maintains the origin of the thrifty gene lies in economics. Apparently harmful overconsumption and addiction constitute economically rational behavior if the increment to current utility from adding to one's stock of "consumption capital" is greater than the present value of utility lost in the future due to ill health and the costs of withdrawal. Tests of these conditions for such "rational addiction" are conducted using two-stage household production approach. The results obtained by estimating this model in a panel of Native and non-Native supermarket scanner data show that both Natives and non-Natives tend to be inherently forward-looking in their nutrient choices, but Natives tend to have far higher long-run demand elasticities for carbohydrates compared to non-Natives. Consequently, reductions in real food prices over time, primarily among foods that are dense in simple carbohydrates, leads Native Americans to over-consume potentially harmful nutrients relative to their traditional diet.

Suggested Citation

  • Richards, Timothy J. & Patterson, Paul M., 2004. "Native American Obesity: An Economic Model of the "Thrifty Gene" Theory," Working Papers 28544, Arizona State University, Morrison School of Agribusiness and Resource Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:asumwp:28544
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    Cited by:

    1. Duffy, Patricia A. & Zizza, Claire A. & Zhu, Min & Kinnucan, Henry W. & Tayie, Francis A., 2008. "Food Insecurity, Diet Quality, and Body Weight: Inter-Relationships and the Effect of Smoking and Alcohol Consumption," 2008 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2008, Orlando, Florida 6155, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    2. Silva, Andres & Dharmasena, Senarath, 2013. "Modeling Seasonal Unit Roots as a Simple Empirical Method to Handle Autocorrelation in Demand Systems: Evidence from UK Expenditure Data," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 149928, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    3. Rickard, Bradley J. & Gonsalves, Jana, 2006. "Examining Potential Changes in Nutrition: Recommendations and Implications for Specialty Crops in California," Research Project Reports 121617, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California Institute for the Study of Specialty Crops.
    4. Zhuo Chen & Qi Zhang, 2011. "Nutrigenomics Hypothesis: Examining the Association Between Food Stamp Program Participation and Bodyweight Among Low-Income Women," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 32(3), pages 508-520, September.
    5. repec:mpr:mprres:7366 is not listed on IDEAS

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