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Obesity and Nature's Thumbprint: How Modern Waistlines Can Inform Economic Theory

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  • Smith, Trenton G

Abstract

The modern prevalence and negative consequences of obesity suggest that many people have a tendency to eat more than is optimal. This paper examines the biological underpinnings of mammalian feeding behavior in an attempt to reconcile the “self-control problem” with the normative tradition of neoclassical economics. Medical, genetic, and molecular evidence suggest that overeating is a manifestation of the fundamental mismatch between ancient environments—in which preferences for eating evolved—and modern environments. The phenomenon can be described with a simple optimal foraging model in which both the utility function and the Bayesian prior are generated endogenously in the distant past. The implied disparity between subjective probabilities and actual probabilities has potentially broad implications for welfare economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Smith, Trenton G, 2002. "Obesity and Nature's Thumbprint: How Modern Waistlines Can Inform Economic Theory," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt31g1m028, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt31g1m028
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    Cited by:

    1. Miller, Richard D. & Frech, Ted, 2002. "The Productivity of Health Care and Pharmaceuticals: Quality of Life, Cause," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt4b55f1xp, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
    2. Robert Goldfarb & Thomas C. Leonard & Steven Suranovic, 2006. "Modeling Alternative Motives for Dieting," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 32(1), pages 115-131, Winter.
    3. Smith, Trenton G. & Tasnadi, Attila, 2007. "A theory of natural addiction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 316-344, May.
    4. Hugo Mialon & Sue Mialon, 2005. "Sinful indulgences, soft substitutes, and self-control," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(12), pages 719-722.
    5. 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.
    6. Auld, M. Christopher, 2011. "Effect of large-scale social interactions on body weight," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 303-316, March.
    7. Pedro Gomis-Porqueras & Adrian Peralta-Alva, 2008. "A macroeconomic analysis of obesity," Working Papers 2008-017, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    8. M. Christopher Auld & Lisa M. Powell, 2009. "Economics of Food Energy Density and Adolescent Body Weight," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(304), pages 719-740, October.

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