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The Socio-Economic Causes of Obesity

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  • Charles L. Baum
  • Shin-Yi Chou

Abstract

An increasing number of Americans are obese, with a body mass index of 30 or more. In fact, the latest estimates indicate that about 30% of Americans are currently obese, which is roughly a 100% increase from 25 years ago. It is well accepted that weight gain is caused by caloric imbalance, where more calories are consumed than expended. Nevertheless, it is not clear why the prevalence of obesity has increased so dramatically over the last 30 years. We simultaneously estimate the effects of the various socio-economic factors on weight status, considering in our analysis many of the socio-economic factors that have been identified by other researchers as important influences on caloric imbalance: employment, physical activity at work, food prices, the prevalence of restaurants, cigarette smoking, cigarette prices and taxes, food stamp receipt, and urbanization. We use 1979- and 1997-cohort National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) data, which allows us to compare the prevalence of obesity between cohorts surveyed roughly 25 years apart. Using the traditional Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition technique, we find that cigarette smoking has the largest effect: the decline in cigarette smoking explains about 2% of the increase in the weight measures. The other significant factors explain less.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles L. Baum & Shin-Yi Chou, 2011. "The Socio-Economic Causes of Obesity," NBER Working Papers 17423, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17423 Note: HE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Alois Stutzer & Armando N. Meier, 2016. "Limited Self‐control, Obesity, and the Loss of Happiness," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(11), pages 1409-1424, November.
    2. Samuel Preston & Andrew Stokes & Neil Mehta & Bochen Cao, 2014. "Projecting the Effect of Changes in Smoking and Obesity on Future Life Expectancy in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 51(1), pages 27-49, February.
    3. repec:bla:jeurec:v:14:y:2016:i:6:p:1253-1286 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Charles J. Courtemanche & Joshua C. Pinkston & Christopher J. Ruhm & George L. Wehby, 2016. "Can Changing Economic Factors Explain the Rise in Obesity?," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 82(4), pages 1266-1310, April.
    5. Rachel Griffith & Rodrigo Lluberas & Melanie Lührmann, 2016. "Gluttony And Sloth? Calories, Labor Market Activity And The Rise Of Obesity," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 14(6), pages 1253-1286, December.
    6. Samuel H. Preston & Andrew Stokes & Neil K. Mehta & Bochen Cao, 2012. "Projecting the Effect of Changes in Smoking and Obesity on Future Life Expectancy in the United States," NBER Working Papers 18407, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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