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

  • Joan Costa-Font
  • Mireia Jofre-Bonet

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.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27751/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 27751.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:27751
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE Library Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HD, U.K.
Phone: +44 (020) 7405 7686
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/

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  1. 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.
  2. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald & Bert Van Landeghem, 2008. "Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility," NBER Working Papers 14337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Manski, Charles F, 1993. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: The Reflection Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 531-42, July.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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