The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination

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THE GROWTH OF OBESITY AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE: A THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL EXAMINATION

Darius Lakdawalla Tomas Philipson

Working Paper 8946 http://www.nber.org/papers/w8946

NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 May 2002

We wish to thank seminar participants at AEI, The University of Chicago, Columbia University, Harvard University, MIT, The University of Toronto, UCLA, Yale University, the 2001 American Economic Association Meetings, the 2001 Population Association of America Meetings, the 12 th Annual Health Economics Conference, as well as Gary Becker, Shankha Chakraborty, Mark Duggan, Michael Grossman, John Mullahy, Casey Mulligan, and Richard Posner.
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Although the recent rise in obesity has attracted attention, growth in weight is not a recent or short-lived phenomenon. Figure 1, from Costa and Steckel (1995), documents large secular gains in average height-adjusted weight for men in different birth cohorts over the last century.2 Indeed, the growth in weight is more pronounced in the early part of the century, although the extreme weights in the tails of the distribution may be a more recent phenomenon. Height-adjusted weight for people in their 40’s, the age group with the highest labor force

1

There exist a small previous literature related to the economic analyses of obesity. The addictive aspects of weight control was considered by Cawley (1999). Obesity’s economic costs to society are presented by Keeler et al (1989). Related analyses of the impact of physical appearance or weight on wages are presented by Hamermesh and Biddle (1994), Loh (1993) , Register and Williams (1990) and Behrman and Rosenzweig (2001). Chou, Grossman, and Saffer (2001) consider the relationship between regional growth in obesity and the growth in fast food-and other types of restaurants. Philipson (2001) provides a qualitative discussion of the forces contributing to world-wide growth in obesity population wide in rich countries and among rich sub-populations in poor

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