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Body image, peer effects and food disorders: Evidence from a sample of European women

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  • Costa-Font, J.
  • Jofre-Bonet, M.

Abstract

Excessive preoccupation with self-image has been pinpointed as a factor contributing to the proliferation of food disorders, especially among young women. To provide an economic basis for this argument this paper models how ‘self-image’ and ‘other people’s appearance’ influence health-related behaviour. Self-image (identity) is claimed to be biased towards anorexic women by social norms and peer pressure, increasing the probability of women experiencing a food disorder. This paper empirically tests this claim using data from a representative, cross-sectional European survey for 2004. A two-step empirical strategy was used. First, the probability was estimated of a woman ‘being extremely thin’ and at the same time ‘seeing herself as too fat’. The findings revealed robust evidence suggesting that (different definitions of) peer effects average out, and that a larger peer body-mass decreases the likelihood of being anorexic. Second, the two processes were estimated separately, using a recursive system, which suggested that self-image was associated with body weight when unobservable variables explaining both processes were controlled for. (These processes were found to be positively and significantly correlated). As expected, several definitions of peers’ body mass were found to decrease the likelihood of women being thin or extremely thin, when common unobservable variables were controlled for.

Suggested Citation

  • Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M., 2010. "Body image, peer effects and food disorders: Evidence from a sample of European women," Working Papers 10/01, Department of Economics, City University London.
  • Handle: RePEc:cty:dpaper:10/01
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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.
    2. William H. Greene, 1998. "Gender Economics Courses in Liberal Arts Colleges: Further Results," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(4), pages 291-300, January.
    3. Howard Bodenhorn & Christopher S. Ruebeck, 2003. "The Economics of Identity and the Endogeneity of Race," NBER Working Papers 9962, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," Working Papers 0203, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
    5. 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.
    6. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1998. "Comparison-concave utility and following behaviour in social and economic settings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 133-155, October.
    7. Trogdon, Justin G. & Nonnemaker, James & Pais, Joanne, 2008. "Peer effects in adolescent overweight," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1388-1399, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lombardini-Riipinen, Chiara & Lankoski, Leena, 2010. "Take off the heater: Utility effect and food environment effect in food consumption decisions," 115th Joint EAAE/AAEA Seminar, September 15-17, 2010, Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany 116431, European Association of Agricultural Economists;Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    self-image; identity; body image; eating disorders; anorexia;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy

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