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Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity

Author

Listed:
  • Courtemanche, Charles

    (University of Louisville)

  • McAlvanah, Patrick

    (Federal Trade Commission)

  • Heutel, Garth

    (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Economics)

Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between time preferences, economic incentives, and body mass index (BMI). Using data from the 2006 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we first show that greater impatience increases BMI and the likelihood of obesity even after controlling for demographic, human capital, occupational, and financial characteristics as well as risk preference. Next, we provide evidence of an interaction effect between time preference and food prices, with cheaper food leading to the largest weight gains among those exhibiting the most impatience. The interaction of changing economic incentives with heterogeneous discounting may help explain why increases in BMI have been concentrated amongst the right tail of the distribution, where the health consequences are especially severe. Lastly, we model time-inconsistent preferences by computing individuals' quasi-hyperbolic discounting parameters (β and δ). Both long-run patience (δ) and present-bias (β) predict BMI, suggesting obesity is partly attributable to rational intertemporal tradeoffs but also partly to time inconsistency.

Suggested Citation

  • Courtemanche, Charles & McAlvanah, Patrick & Heutel, Garth, 2011. "Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity," UNCG Economics Working Papers 11-9, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Economics, revised 28 Sep 2011.
  • Handle: RePEc:ris:uncgec:2011_009
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Obesity; weight; body mass index; time inconsistent; time inconsistency; hyperbolic discounting; present bias; self control; discount factor; discount rate; time preference; food prices;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General

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