IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/fip/fedbwp/09-3.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Has overweight become the new normal?: evidence of a generational shift in body weight norms

Author

Listed:
  • Mary A. Burke
  • Frank Heiland
  • Carl Nadler

Abstract

We test for differences across the two most recent NHANES survey periods (1988–1994 and 1999–2004) in self-perception of weight status. We find that the probability of self-classifying as overweight is significantly lower on average in the more recent survey, for both men and women, controlling for objective weight status and other factors. Among women, the decline in the tendency to self-classify as overweight is concentrated in the 17–35 age range, and, within this range, is more pronounced among women with normal BMI than among those with overweight BMI. Among men, the shift away from feeling overweight is roughly equal across age groups, except that the oldest group (56–74) exhibits no difference between surveys. In addition, overweight men exhibit a sharper decline in feeling overweight than normal-weight men. Despite the declines in feeling overweight between surveys, weight misperception did not increase significantly for men and decreased by a sizable margin among women. The shifts in self classification are not explained by differences between surveys in body fatness or waist circumference, nor by shifting demographics. We interpret the findings as evidence of a generational shift in social norms related to body weight, and propose various mechanisms to explain such a shift, including: (1) higher average adult BMI and adult obesity rates in the later survey cohort, (2) higher childhood obesity rates in the later survey cohort, and (3) public education campaigns promoting healthy body image. The welfare implications of the observed trends in self-classification are mixed.

Suggested Citation

  • Mary A. Burke & Frank Heiland & Carl Nadler, 2009. "Has overweight become the new normal?: evidence of a generational shift in body weight norms," Working Papers 09-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:09-3
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2009/wp0903.htm
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: http://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2009/wp0903.htm
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Obesity;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:09-3. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Catherine Spozio). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/frbbous.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.