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Why Is The Developed World Obese?

  • Sara Bleich
  • David Cutler
  • Christopher Murray
  • Alyce Adams

Obesity has risen dramatically in the past few decades. However, the relative contribution of energy intake and energy expenditure to rising obesity is not known. Moreover, the extent to which social and economic factors tip the energy balance is not well understood. In this longitudinal analysis of developed countries, we estimate the relative contribution of increased caloric intake and reduced physical activity to obesity using two methods of energy accounting. Results show that rising obesity is primarily the result of consuming more calories. We estimate multivariate regression models and use simulation analysis to explore technological and sociodemographic determinants of this dietary excess. Results indicate that the increase in caloric intake is associated with technological innovations such as reduced food prices as well as changing sociodemographic factors such as increased urbanization and increased female labor force participation. The study findings offer useful insights to future research concerned with the etiology of obesity and may help inform the development of obesity-related policy. In particular, our results suggest that policies to encourage less caloric intake may help reverse past trends in increased consumption.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12954.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12954.

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Date of creation: Mar 2007
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Publication status: published as Posted with permission from the Annual Review of Public Health, Volume 29, copyright 2008 by Annual Reviews, www.annualreviews.org
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12954
Note: HC HE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page: http://www.nber.org
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  1. Robert W. Fogel, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," NBER Working Papers 4638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Phillip B. Levine, 2002. "Maternal employment and overweight children," Working Paper Series WP-02-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  3. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 93-118, Summer.
  4. Jay Bhattacharya & Neeraj Sood, 2005. "Health Insurance and the Obesity Externality," NBER Working Papers 11529, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Dowler, Elizabeth A. & Seo, Young Ok, 1985. "Assessment of energy intake : Estimates of food supply v measurement of food consumption," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 278-288, August.
  6. Shin-Yi Chou & Michael Grossman & Henry Saffer, 2002. "An Economic Analysis of Adult Obesity: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System," NBER Working Papers 9247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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