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Economic Stressors and the Demand for "Fattening" Foods


  • Trenton Smith

    () (School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University)


A broad and growing literature suggests that uncertainty with respect to income, employment, and/or the financial resources necessary to buy food may cause people to gain weight. The theory—inspired by theory and evidence from behavioral ecology—posits that economic insecurity triggers a physiological fattening response, but the mechanisms by which weight gain occurs (e.g., physical activity, caloric intake, dietary quality, basal metabolism, depression) are not known. This paper reviews and synthesizes evidence supporting a dietary quality mechanism, in which economic insecurity triggers a shift in food preferences toward “fattening” foods. Interestingly, the foods to which individuals appear to be drawn under these circumstances are those which the anthropological evidence suggests would have been eaten (in pre-industrial societies) during periods of seasonal food scarcity

Suggested Citation

  • Trenton Smith, 2011. "Economic Stressors and the Demand for "Fattening" Foods," Working Papers 2011-1, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wsu:wpaper:tgsmith-8

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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. Monsivais, Pablo & Martin, Adam & Suhrcke, Marc & Forouhi, Nita G. & Wareham, Nicholas J., 2015. "Job-loss and weight gain in British adults: Evidence from two longitudinal studies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 223-231.
    3. Staudigel, Matthias, 2016. "A soft pillow for hard times? Economic insecurity, food intake and body weight in Russia," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 198-212.

    More about this item


    obesity; glycemic effects; stress; evolution;

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D87 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Neuroeconomics
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior


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