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The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change

  • Tomas J. Philipson
  • Richard A. Posner

This paper analyzes the factors contributing to the worldwide long-run rise in obesity and the effects of public interventions on its continued growth. The growth of obesity in a population results from an increase in calorie consumption relative to physical activity. Yet in developed countries, obesity has grown with modest rises in calorie consumption and with a substantial increase in both dieting and recreational exercise. We consider the economic incentives that give rise to a growth in obesity by stimulating intake of calories while discouraging the expending of calories on physical activity. We argue that technological change provides a natural interpretation of the long-run growth in obesity despite a rise in dieting and exercise, that it predicts that the effect of income on obesity falls with economic development, and that it implies that the growth in obesity may be self-limiting.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7423.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7423.

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Date of creation: Nov 1999
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Publication status: published as Philipson, T., and R. Posner. “The Long Run Growth of Obesity as a Function of Technological Change." Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46, 3 (Summer 2003): 87-108.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7423
Note: HE
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  1. Michael Grossman, 1972. "The Demand for Health: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gros72-1, October.
  2. Ippolito, Pauline M & Mathios, Alan D, 1995. "Information and Advertising: The Case of Fat Consumption in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(2), pages 91-95, May.
  3. Jeff E. Biddle & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1995. "Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre," NBER Working Papers 5366, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Tomas J. Philipson & Gary S. Becker, 1998. "Old-Age Longevity and Mortality-Contingent Claims," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 551-573, June.
  5. Ehrlich, Isaac & Chuma, Hiroyuki, 1990. "A Model of the Demand for Longevity and the Value of Life Extension," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(4), pages 761-82, August.
  6. Susan Averett & Sanders Korenman, 1996. "The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(2), pages 304-330.
  7. Arthur, W B, 1981. "The Economics of Risks to Life," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(1), pages 54-64, March.
  8. Rodolfo Nayga, 1997. "Obesity and heart disease awareness: a note on the impact of consumer characteristics using qualitative choice analysis," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(4), pages 229-231.
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