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Explaining gender-specific racial differences in obesity using biased self-reports of food intake

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  • Mary A. Burke
  • Frank Heiland

Abstract

Policymakers have an interest in identifying the differences in behavior patterns - namely, habitual caloric intake and physical activity levels - that contribute to demographic variation in body mass index (BMI) and obesity risk. While disparities in mean BMI and obesity rates between whites (non-Hispanic) and African-Americans (non-Hispanic) are well-documented, the behavioral differences that underlie these gaps have not been carefully identified. Moreover, the female-specificity of the black-white obesity gap has received relatively little attention. In the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) data, we initially observe a very weak relationship between self-reported measures of caloric intake and physical activity and either BMI or obesity risk, and these behaviors appear to explain only a small fraction of the black-white BMI gap (or obesity gap) among women. These unadjusted estimates echo previous findings from large survey datasets such as the NHANES. Using an innovative method to mitigate the widely recognized problem of measurement error in self-reported behaviors - proxying for measurement errors using the ratio of reported caloric intake to estimated true caloric needs - we obtain much stronger relationships between behaviors and BMI (or obesity risk). Behaviors can in fact account for a significant share of the BMI gap (and the obesity gap) between black women and white women and are consistent with the presence of much smaller gaps between black men and white men. The analysis also shows that the effects smoking has on BMI and obesity risk are small-to-negligible when measurement error is properly controlled.

Suggested Citation

  • Mary A. Burke & Frank Heiland, 2011. "Explaining gender-specific racial differences in obesity using biased self-reports of food intake," Working Papers 11-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:11-2
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Komlos & Marek Brabec, 2010. "The Trend of BMI Values of US Adults by Centiles, birth cohorts 1882-1986," NBER Working Papers 16252, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Susan Averett & Sanders Korenman, 1996. "The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(2), pages 304-330.
    3. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2010. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 32-63, August.
    4. Burke & Heiland, 2007. "Social Dynamics Of Obesity," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(3), pages 571-591, July.
    5. Mary A. Burke & Frank Heiland, 2008. "Race, obesity, and the puzzle of gender specificity," Working Papers 08-8, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    6. Chou, Shin-Yi & Grossman, Michael & Saffer, Henry, 2004. "An economic analysis of adult obesity: results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 565-587, May.
    7. Rashad, Inas, 2006. "Structural estimation of caloric intake, exercise, smoking, and obesity," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 268-283, May.
    8. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
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    Cited by:

    1. Dang, Rui, 2015. "Explaining the body mass index gaps between Turkish immigrants and Germans in West Germany 2002-2012: A decomposition analysis of socio-economic causes," Ruhr Economic Papers 580, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.

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    Keywords

    Obesity;

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