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The Transition to Post-industrial BMI Values Among US Children

  • John Komlos
  • Ariane Breitfelder
  • Marco Sunder

In our opinion, the trend in the BMI values of US children has not been estimated accurately. We use five models to estimate the BMI trends of non-Hispanic US-born black and white children and adolescents ages 2-19 born 1941-2006 on the basis of all NHES and NHANES data sets. We also use some historical BMI values for comparison. The increase in BMIZ values during the period considered was on average 1.3σ (95% CI: 1.16σ; 1.44σ) among black girls, 0.8σ for black boys, 0.7σ for white boys, and 0.6σ for white girls. This translates into an increase in BMI values of some 5.6, 3.3, 2.4, and 1.5 units respectively. While the increase in BMI values started among the birth cohorts of the 1940s among black females, the rate of increase tended to accelerate among all four groups born in the mid-1950s to early-1960s with the contemporaneous spread of TV viewing. The rate of increase levelled off somewhat thereafter. There is some indication that among black boys and white girls born after c. 1990 adiposity has remained unchanged or perhaps even declined. The affects of the IT revolution of the last two decades of the century is less evident. Some regional evidence leads to the speculation that the spread of automobiles and radios affected the BMI values of boys already in the interwar period. We infer that the incremental weight increases are associated with the labor-saving technological developments of the 20th century which brought about many faceted cultural and nutritional revolutions.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13898.

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Date of creation: Mar 2008
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Publication status: published as The transition to post-industrial BMI values among US children John Komlos1,*, Ariane Breitfelder1, Marco Sunder2 Article first published online: 5 NOV 2008 DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20806 Copyright © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc. Issue American Journal of Human Biology American Journal of Human Biology Volume 21, Issue 2, pages 151–160, March/April 2009
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13898
Note: HE CH
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  1. Tomas J. Philipson & Richard A. Posner, 1999. "The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change," Working Papers 9912, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  2. Komlos, John & Baur, Marieluise, 2003. "From the Tallest to (One of) the Fattest: The Enigmatic Fate of the American Population in the 20th Century," Discussion Papers in Economics 76, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  3. Lang, Stefan & Sunder, Marco, 2003. "Non-parametric regression with BayesX: a flexible estimation of trends in human physical stature in 19th century America," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 77-89, January.
  4. Costa, Dora L., 2004. "The Measure of Man and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Gould Sample," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(01), pages 1-23, March.
  5. 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.
  6. Adonis Yatchew, 1998. "Nonparametric Regression Techniques in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 669-721, June.
  7. Rosenbaum, Paul R., 2005. "Heterogeneity and Causality: Unit Heterogeneity and Design Sensitivity in Observational Studies," The American Statistician, American Statistical Association, vol. 59, pages 147-152, May.
  8. Shin-Yi Chou & Inas Rashad & Michael Grossman, 2005. "Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and Its Influence on Childhood Obesity," NBER Working Papers 11879, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Komlos, John, 1987. "The Height and Weight of West Point Cadets: Dietary Change in Antebellum America," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(04), pages 897-927, December.
  10. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson & Jay Bhattacharya, 2005. "Welfare-Enhancing Technological Change and the Growth of Obesity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 253-257, May.
  11. Dora L. Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Offer, Avner, 2007. "The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199216628.
  15. 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.
  16. John Komlos & Peter Coclanis, . "Nutrition and Economic Development in Post-Reconstruction South Carolina: an Anthropometric Approach," Articles by John Komlos 15, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
  17. Tomas Philipson & Richard Posner, 2008. "Is the Obesity Epidemic a Public Health Problem? A Decade of Research on the Economics of Obesity," NBER Working Papers 14010, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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