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Childhood Disadvantage and Obesity: Is Nurture Trumping Nature?

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  • Patricia M. Anderson
  • Kristin F. Butcher
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Abstract

Obesity has been one of the fastest growing health concerns among children, particularly among disadvantaged children. For children overall, obesity rates have tripled from 5% in the early 1970s to about 15% by the early 2000s. For disadvantaged children, obesity rates are closer to 20%. In this paper, we first examine the impact of various measures of disadvantage on children's weight outcomes over the past 30 years, finding that the disadvantaged have gained weight faster. Over the same period, adult obesity rates have grown, and we expect parental obesity to be closely tied to children's obesity, for reasons of both nature and nurture. Thus, examining changes in the parent-child correlation in BMI should give us some insight into the ways in which the environment that parents and children share has affected children's body mass, or into how the interaction of genes and environment has changed. We find that the elasticity between mothers' and children's BMI has increased since the 1970s, suggesting that shared genetic-environmental factors have become more important in determining obesity. Despite the faster weight gain for the disadvantaged, there appears to be no clear difference for by disadvantaged group in either the parent-child elasticity or in identifiable environmental factors. On average, the increases in parents' BMI between the early 1970s and the early 2000s can explain about 37 percent of the increase in children's BMI. Although common environmental/genetic factors play a larger role now than in earlier time periods, child specific environments such as schools and day care play a potentially important role in determining children's health status.

Suggested Citation

  • Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2007. "Childhood Disadvantage and Obesity: Is Nurture Trumping Nature?," NBER Working Papers 13479, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13479
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson, 2002. "The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination," Working Papers 0203, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
    2. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher, 2006. "Reading, Writing, and Refreshments: Are School Finances Contributing to Children’s Obesity?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(3).
    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. Patricia M. Anderson & Kristin F. Butcher & Phillip B. Levine, 2003. "Economic perspectives on childhood obesity," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q III, pages 30-48.
    5. Bruce Sacerdote, 2007. "How Large are the Effects from Changes in Family Environment? A Study of Korean American Adoptees," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 119-157.
    6. Anderson, Patricia M. & Butcher, Kristin F. & Levine, Phillip B., 2003. "Maternal employment and overweight children," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 477-504, May.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Rajeev Dehejia & Thomas DeLeire & Erzo F. P. Luttmer & Josh Mitchell, 2007. "The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth," NBER Chapters,in: The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective, pages 237-274 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Heather Brown & Jennifer Roberts, 2012. "Born to Be Wide? Exploring Correlations in Mother and Adolescent Body Mass Index Using Data from the British Household Panel Survey," Working Papers 2012019, The University of Sheffield, Department of Economics.
    3. Classen, Timothy J. & Thompson, Owen, 2016. "Genes and the intergenerational transmission of BMI and obesity," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 121-133.
    4. Stifel, David C. & Averett, Susan L., 2009. "Childhood overweight in the United States: A quantile regression approach," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 387-397, December.
    5. Joan Costa-i-Font & Mireia Jofre-Bonet & Julian Le Grand, 2015. "Vertical Transmission of Overweight: Evidence from English Adoptees," CESifo Working Paper Series 5351, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Classen, Timothy J., 2010. "Measures of the intergenerational transmission of body mass index between mothers and their children in the United States, 1981-2004," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 30-43, March.
    7. Kevin Milligan & Mark Stabile, 2011. "Do Child Tax Benefits Affect the Well-Being of Children? Evidence from Canadian Child Benefit Expansions," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 175-205, August.
    8. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2010. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 32-63, August.
    9. Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M. & Le Grand, J., 2016. "Vertical Transmission of Overweight: Evidence from English Adoptees," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 15/05, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    10. Brown, Heather & Roberts, Jennifer, 2013. "Born to be wide? Exploring correlations in mother and adolescent body mass index," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 120(3), pages 413-415.
    11. Georgia S. Papoutsi & Andreas C. Drichoutis & Rodolfo M. Nayga Jr., 2013. "The Causes Of Childhood Obesity: A Survey," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(4), pages 743-767, September.
    12. Currie, Janet & DellaVigna, Stefano & Moretti, Enrico & Pathania, Vikram, 2009. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity," Working Papers 47830, American Association of Wine Economists.
    13. Akee, Randall K. Q. & Simeonova, Emilia & Copeland, William & Angold, Adrian & Costello, Jane E., 2010. "Does More Money Make You Fat? The Effects of Quasi-Experimental Income Transfers on Adolescent and Young Adult Obesity," IZA Discussion Papers 5135, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    14. Agne Suziedelyte, 2015. "The effects of old and new media on children's weight," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(10), pages 1008-1018, February.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

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