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The Freer the Fatter? A Panel Study of the Relationship between Body-Mass Index and Economic Freedom

Along with the economic and technological developments of the past decades, obesity has become a growing public health problem. This study empirically investigates whether the large and widespread increases in body-mass index (BMI) that have been observed around the world are related to economic freedom, as measured and defined by the Economic Freedom of the World Index. Economic freedom is part of the environment in which individuals make choices about food intake and physical activity, and may encourage unhealthy behavior and affect body weight by changing the opportunity sets. It may for example affect the quality and quantity of foods available to consumers, the access to safety nets, and the access to environments for physical activity. The empirical analysis is based on a panel of 31 high-income countries and data for the period 1983 to 2008. It finds a positive and statistically significant relationship between the level of economic freedom and both the level of, and five-year change in, BMI. Decomposing the freedom index into sub-indices measuring economic freedom in five sub-areas (government, legal structure, sound money, trade, and regulations) shows that freedom in the regulations dimension is the most consistent contributor to this result.

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Paper provided by Lund University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2013:23.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: 04 Jul 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:lunewp:2013_023
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economics, School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Box 7082, S-220 07 Lund,Sweden
Phone: +46 +46 222 0000
Fax: +46 +46 2224613
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  1. John W. Dawson, 2001. "Causality in the Freedom-Growth Relationship," Working Papers 01-04, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
  2. Fabrice Etilé, 2007. "Social norms, ideal body weight and food attitudes," Post-Print halshs-00754207, HAL.
  3. de Haan, Jakob & Sturm, Jan-Egbert, 2000. "On the relationship between economic freedom and economic growth," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 215-241, June.
  4. Paul Anand & Alastair Gray, 2009. "Obesity as Market Failure: Could a 'Deliberative Economy' Overcome the Problems of Paternalism?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(2), pages 182-190, 04.
  5. Giovanni S.F. Bruno, 2005. "Estimation and inference in dynamic unbalanced panel data models with a small number of individuals," KITeS Working Papers 165, KITeS, Centre for Knowledge, Internationalization and Technology Studies, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy, revised Jun 2005.
  6. Avner Offer & Rachel Pechey & Stanley Ulijaszek, 2010. "Obesity under affluence varies by welfare regimes: the effect of fast food, insecurity, and inequality," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _082, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  7. Egger, Garry & Swinburn, Boyd & Amirul Islam, F.M., 2012. "Economic growth and obesity: An interesting relationship with world-wide implications," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 147-153.
  8. Berggren, Niclas, 2003. "The Benefits of Economic Freedom: A Survey," Ratio Working Papers 4, The Ratio Institute.
  9. Maria L. Loureiro & Rodolfo M. Nayga, 2005. "International Dimensions of Obesity and Overweight Related Problems: An Economics Perspective," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(5), pages 1147-1153.
  10. Sara Bleich & David Cutler & Christopher Murray & Alyce Adams, 2007. "Why Is The Developed World Obese?," NBER Working Papers 12954, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Franco Sassi, 2010. "Obesity and the Economics of Prevention," Books, Edward Elgar, number 14244.
  12. Ruhm, Christopher J., 2012. "Understanding overeating and obesity," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 781-796.
  13. Ann L. Owen & Stephen Wu, 2007. "Is Trade Good for Your Health?," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(4), pages 660-682, 09.
  14. Smith Trenton G. & Stoddard Christiana & Barnes Michael G, 2009. "Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 1-31, June.
  15. Jessica Wisdom & Julie S. Downs & George Loewenstein, 2010. "Promoting Healthy Choices: Information versus Convenience," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 164-78, April.
  16. Stroup, Michael D., 2007. "Economic Freedom, Democracy, and the Quality of Life," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 52-66, January.
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