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The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change

  • Tomas J. Philipson
  • Richard A. Posner

This paper analyzes the forces contributing to the worldwide long-run rise in obesity and the role of public interventions in affecting its continued growth. The cause of a growth in obesity in a population must be that calorie consumption is outpacing the growth of physical activity. Yet in developed countries, obesity has grown with modest rises in calorie consumption and with a substantial increase in both exercise and dieting. We consider the economic incentives that give rise to a growth in obesity by stimulating intake of calories at the same time as discouraging the expending of calories on physical activity. We argue that technological change provides a natural interpretation of the long-run growth in obesity, that it predicts that the effect of income on obesity changes sign with economic development, and that it implies that the growth in obesity may be self-limiting.

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Paper provided by Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago in its series Working Papers with number 9912.

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Date of creation: Aug 1999
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Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:9912
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  1. Susan Averett & Sanders Korenman, 1993. "The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth," NBER Working Papers 4521, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ippolito, Pauline M & Mathios, Alan D, 1995. "Information and Advertising: The Case of Fat Consumption in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(2), pages 91-95, May.
  3. Biddle, Jeff E & Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1998. "Beauty, Productivity, and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 172-201, January.
  4. Rodolfo Nayga, 1997. "Obesity and heart disease awareness: a note on the impact of consumer characteristics using qualitative choice analysis," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(4), pages 229-231.
  5. Arthur, W B, 1981. "The Economics of Risks to Life," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(1), pages 54-64, March.
  6. Michael Grossman, 1972. "The Demand for Health: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gros72-1, May.
  7. Ehrlich, Isaac & Chuma, Hiroyuki, 1990. "A Model of the Demand for Longevity and the Value of Life Extension," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(4), pages 761-82, August.
  8. Tomas J. Philipson & Gary S. Becker, 1998. "Old-Age Longevity and Mortality-Contingent Claims," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 551-573, June.
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