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The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination

  • Darius Lakdawalla
  • Tomas Philipson

This paper provides a theoretical and empirical examination of the long-run growth in weight over time. We argue that technological change has induced weight growth by making home- and market-production more sedentary and by lowering food prices through agricultural innovation. We consider how such technological change creates unexpected relationships among income, food prices, and weight. Using individual-level data from 1976 to 1994, we find that technology-based reductions in food prices and job-related exercise have had significant impacts on weight across time and populations. We find that about forty percent of the recent growth in weight seems to be due to innovation in agricultural production passed through as reduced food prices, while sixty percent may be due to demand factors such as increased productivity in home- or market production being associated with declining physical activity.

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Paper provided by Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago in its series Working Papers with number 0203.

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Date of creation: Apr 2002
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Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:0203
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  1. Tomas J. Philipson & Richard A. Posner, 1999. "The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change," NBER Working Papers 7423, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Dora Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 47-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Bound, John & Brown, Charles & Mathiowetz, Nancy, 2001. "Measurement error in survey data," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 59, pages 3705-3843 Elsevier.
  5. Besley, Timothy J. & Rosen, Harvey S., 1999. "Sales Taxes and Prices: An Empirical Analysis," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 2), pages 157-78, June.
  6. John Cawley, 2000. "Body Weight and Women's Labor Market Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 7841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Tomas Philipson, 2001. "The world-wide growth in obesity: an economic research agenda," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(1), pages 1-7.
  8. Araujo, A, 1991. "The Once but Not Twice Differentiability of the Policy Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1383-93, September.
  9. Poterba, James M., 1996. "Retail Price Reactions to Changes in State and Local Sales Taxes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 49(2), pages 165-76, June.
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