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The Trend of Mean BMI Values of US Adults, Birth Cohorts 1882-1986 Indicates that the Obesity Epidemic Began Earlier than Hitherto Thought

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  • John Komlos
  • Marek Brabec

Abstract

The trend in the BMI values of the US population has not been estimated accurately because time series data are unavailable and because the focus has been on calculating period effects. In contrast to the prevailing strategies, we estimate the trend and rate of change of BMI values by birth cohorts stratified by gender and ethnicity born 1882-1986. We use loess additive regression models to estimate age and trend effects of BMI values of US-born black and white adults measured between 1959 and 2006. We use all the NHES and NHANES survey data and find that the increase in BMI was already underway among the birth cohorts of the early 20th century. The rate of increase was fastest among black females; for the three other groups under consideration, the rates of increase were similar. The generally persistent upward trend was punctuated by upsurges, particularly after each of the two World Wars. That the estimated rate of change of BMI values increased by 71% among black females between the birth cohorts 1955 and those of 1965 is indicative of the rapid increases in their weight. We infer that transition to post-industrial weights was a gradual process and began considerably earlier than hitherto supposed.

Suggested Citation

  • John Komlos & Marek Brabec, 2010. "The Trend of Mean BMI Values of US Adults, Birth Cohorts 1882-1986 Indicates that the Obesity Epidemic Began Earlier than Hitherto Thought," NBER Working Papers 15862, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15862
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Maruyama, Shiko & Nakamura, Sayaka, 2015. "The decline in BMI among Japanese women after World War II," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 18(C), pages 125-138.
    2. Ljungvall, Åsa & Zimmerman, Frederick J., 2012. "Bigger bodies: Long-term trends and disparities in obesity and body-mass index among U.S. adults, 1960–2008," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 109-119.
    3. John Komlos & Marek Brabec, 2010. "The Trend of BMI Values by Centiles of US Adults, Birth Cohorts 1882-1986," CESifo Working Paper Series 3132, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Cawley, John & Meyerhoefer, Chad, 2012. "The medical care costs of obesity: An instrumental variables approach," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 219-230.
    5. Scott A. Carson, 2013. "US Male Obesity from 1800-2000: A Long Term Perspective," CESifo Working Paper Series 4366, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Jolliffe, Dean, 2011. "Overweight and poor? On the relationship between income and the body mass index," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 342-355.
    7. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:26:y:2017:i:c:p:137-143 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Scott Carson, 2015. "A Weighty Issue: Diminished Net Nutrition Among the U.S. Working Class in the Nineteenth Century," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(3), pages 945-966, June.
    9. Cawley, John, 2015. "An economy of scales: A selective review of obesity's economic causes, consequences, and solutions," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 244-268.
    10. Gomula, Aleksandra & Nowak-Szczepanska, Natalia & Danel, Dariusz P. & Koziel, Slawomir, 2015. "Overweight trends among Polish schoolchildren before and after the transition from communism to capitalism," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 246-257.
    11. John Komlos & Marek Brabec, 2010. "The Trend of BMI Values of US Adults by Centiles, birth cohorts 1882-1986," NBER Working Papers 16252, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General

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