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Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity

  • Trenton Smith
  • Christiana Stoddard
  • Michael G. Barnes


    (School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University)

Something about being poor makes people fat. Though there are many possible explanations for the income-body weight gradient, we investigate a promising butlittle-studied hypothesis: that economic insecurity acts as an independent cause of weight gain. We use data on working age men from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) to identify the effect of various measures of economic insecurity on weight gain. We find in particular that over the 12-year period between 1988 and 2000, a one point (0.01) increase in the probability of becoming unemployed causes weight gain over this period to increase by about one pound, and each realized drop in annual income results in an increase of about 5.5 pounds. The mechanism also appears to work in reverse, with health insurance and government "social safety net" payments leading to smaller weight gains.

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Paper provided by School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University in its series Working Papers with number 2007-16.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wsu:wpaper:tgsmith-2
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  1. Kowalski Amanda E. & Congdon William J. & Showalter Mark H., 2008. "State Health Insurance Regulations and the Price of High-Deductible Policies," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(2), pages 1-26, November.
  2. Trenton G. Smith, 2004. "The McDonald’s Equilibrium. Advertising, empty calories, and the endogenous determination of dietary preferences," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 23(3), pages 383-413, December.
  3. Christopher J. Ruhm, 1996. "Are Recessions Good For Your Health?," NBER Working Papers 5570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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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  7. Shapiro, Jesse & Glaeser, Edward & Cutler, David, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese," Scholarly Articles 2640583, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Partha Dasgupta & Eric Maskin, 2005. "Uncertainty and Hyperbolic Discounting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1290-1299, September.
  9. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  10. Smith, Trenton G. & Tasnadi, Attila, 2007. "A theory of natural addiction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 316-344, May.
  11. Trenton Smith, 2009. "Reconciling psychology with economics: Obesity, behavioral biology, and rational overeating," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 249-282, December.
  12. Nord, Mark & Andrews, Margaret S. & Carlson, Steven, 2004. "Household Food Security In The United States, 2003," Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Reports 33835, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  13. 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.
  14. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2002. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1308-1334, December.
  15. 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.
  16. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1976. "Equilibrium in Competitive Insurance Markets: An Essay on the Economics of Imperfect Information," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 630-49, November.
  17. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
  18. Albert J. Reed & J. William Levedahl & Charles Hallahan, 2005. "The Generalized Composite Commodity Theorem and Food Demand Estimation," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(1), pages 28-37.
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