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Is obesity contagious?: social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic

  • Ethan Cohen-Cole
  • Jason M. Fletcher

This note’s aim is to investigate the sensitivity of Christakis and Fowler’s claim (NEJM July 26, 2007) that obesity has spread through social networks. It is well known in the economics literature that failure to include contextual effects can lead to spurious inference on “social network effects.” We replicate the NEJM results using their specification and a complementary dataset. We find that point estimates of the “social network effect” are reduced and become statistically indistinguishable from zero once standard econometric techniques are implemented. We further note the presence of estimation bias resulting from use of an incorrectly specified dynamic model.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Risk and Policy Analysis Unit Working Paper with number QAU08-2.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbqu:qau08-2
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  1. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Krauth, Brian V., 2006. "Simulation-based estimation of peer effects," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 133(1), pages 243-271, July.
  3. repec:att:wimass:9127 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Bramoullé, Yann & Djebbari, Habiba & Fortin, Bernard, 2007. "Identification of Peer Effects through Social Networks," IZA Discussion Papers 2652, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Durlauf,S.N., 2003. "Neighborhood effects," Working papers 17, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  6. Lee, Lung-fei, 2007. "Identification and estimation of econometric models with group interactions, contextual factors and fixed effects," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 140(2), pages 333-374, October.
  7. 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.
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