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Identifying Endogenous Peer Effects in the Spread of Obesity


  • Timothy J. Halliday

    () (Department of Economics, University of Hawaii at Manoa)

  • Sally Kwak

    () (Department of Economics, University of Hawaii at Manoa)


Recent research in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) purports to show the existence of peer effects in the spread of obesity. Using a dataset of 5124 residents from Framingham, Massachusetts spanning the years 1971 to 2003, the authors show correlations between own weight gain and friends’ and relatives’ weight gain over this period. They find, furthermore, that these results are strongest for males and weaker for females. We use the Adolescent Health Survey, a nationally representative dataset of seventh through twelfth graders in 1994 and 1996 to examine the effect of peers on weight gain. Despite the differences in the samples, we are able to replicate the pattern of results in the NEJM study. However the results are not robust to alternative definitions of the outcome variable. Furthermore, due to the various identification issues that are unresolved in both this and the NEJM paper, we conclude that the evidence for contagion effects in the spread of obesity is only suggestive at best.

Suggested Citation

  • Timothy J. Halliday & Sally Kwak, 2007. "Identifying Endogenous Peer Effects in the Spread of Obesity," Working Papers 200727, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hai:wpaper:200727

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    File Function: First version, 2007
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deaton, Angus, 1995. "Data and econometric tools for development analysis," Handbook of Development Economics,in: Hollis Chenery & T.N. Srinivasan (ed.), Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 33, pages 1785-1882 Elsevier.
    2. Alejandro Gaviria & Steven Raphael, 2001. "School-Based Peer Effects And Juvenile Behavior," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(2), pages 257-268, May.
    3. Bo E. Honoré & Ekaterini Kyriazidou, 2000. "Panel Data Discrete Choice Models with Lagged Dependent Variables," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(4), pages 839-874, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Olga Yakusheva & Kandice A. Kapinos & Daniel Eisenberg, 2014. "Estimating Heterogeneous and Hierarchical Peer Effects on Body Weight Using Roommate Assignments as a Natural Experiment," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 49(1), pages 234-261.
    2. Loh, Chung-Ping A. & Li, Qiang, 2013. "Peer effects in adolescent bodyweight: Evidence from rural China," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 35-44.

    More about this item


    Peer effects; obesity; adolescent health;

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General

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