Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity
Trenton G. Smith
University of Otago
Montana State University - Bozeman
Michael G. Barnes
Washington State University - School of Economic Sciences
WSU School of Economic Sciences Working Paper No. 2007-16
Something about being poor makes people fat. Though there are many possible explanations for the income-body weight gradient, we investigate a promising but little-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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 31
Keywords: obesity, unemployment, moral hazard
JEL Classification: D12, I12, I18, I38, J22, J65
Date posted: April 9, 2007
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