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Differences in the U.S. Trends in the Prevalence of Obesity Based on Body Mass Index and Skinfold Thickness

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Listed:
  • Richard V. Burkhauser
  • John Cawley
  • Maximilian D. Schmeiser

Abstract

There are several ways to measure fatness and obesity, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The primary measure for tracking the prevalence of obesity has historically been body mass index (BMI). This paper compares long-run trends in the prevalence of obesity when obesity is defined using skinfold thickness instead of body mass index (BMI), using data from the full series of U.S. National Health Examination Surveys. The results indicate that when one uses skinfold thicknesses rather than BMI to define obesity, the rise in the prevalence of obesity is detectable ten to twenty years earlier. This underscores the importance of examining multiple measures of fatness when monitoring or otherwise studying obesity.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard V. Burkhauser & John Cawley & Maximilian D. Schmeiser, 2009. "Differences in the U.S. Trends in the Prevalence of Obesity Based on Body Mass Index and Skinfold Thickness," NBER Working Papers 15005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15005
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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. Dean Jolliffe, 2004. "Continuous and robust measures of the overweight epidemic: 1971–2000," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(2), pages 303-314, May.
    3. 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).
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    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.
    7. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Cawley, John, 2008. "Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 519-529, March.
    8. Gruber, Jonathan & Frakes, Michael, 2006. "Does falling smoking lead to rising obesity?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 183-197, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Howard Bodenhorn & Gregory Price, 2009. "Crime and Body Weight in the Nineteenth Century: Was there a Relationship between Brawn, Employment Opportunities and Crime?," NBER Working Papers 15099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts

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