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We Are What We Eat: Obesity, Income, and Social Comparisons

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  • Nathalie Mathieu-Bolh

    () (University of Vermont, USA)

  • Ronald Wendner

    () (University of Graz, Austria)

Abstract

The empirical evidence of a non-monotone relation between income and obesity is not well explained. We build a theoretical model combining income inequality and social comparisons to explain the link between income and obesity and study tax policy implications for fighting obesity. We assume that differences in food consumption patterns between poor and wealthy households partly reflect positionality, which is the concern for social status. Our key assumption is that positionality for low-calorie food consumption is positively related to a country’s wealth. In this framework, body weight outcomes reflect competing income and positionality effects, yielding the following results. We explain the link between average obesity rates, and standards of living and suggest the existence of a Kuznets curve for obesity. For cross sections of the population, we explain the observed correlation between income and obesity, which is positive in poor countries, and negative rich countries. We find that increasing the relative cost of high-calorie food is less effective at decreasing the relative weight of poor individuals in rich countries than in poor countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Nathalie Mathieu-Bolh & Ronald Wendner, 2018. "We Are What We Eat: Obesity, Income, and Social Comparisons," Graz Economics Papers 2018-21, University of Graz, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:grz:wpaper:2018-21
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    Keywords

    Obesity; Status; Consumption Reference Points; Kuznets Curve; Tax Policy;

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D30 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - General
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models

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