Variance in Obesity Across Cohorts and Countries: A Norms-Based Explanation Using Happiness Surveys

CSED Working Paper No. 42

34 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2007 Last revised: 11 Nov 2007

See all articles by Carol Graham

Carol Graham

Brookings Institution - Center on Social and Economic Dynamics; University of Maryland

Andrew Felton

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; University of Maryland - School of Public Affairs

Date Written: September 2005

Abstract

We use well being surveys to help explain the variance in obesity incidence across socioeconomic cohorts in the United States and Russia, with a focus on the role of norms. In the U.S., obesity is largely a poor people's problem, and the same groups suffer higher well being costs from being obese. Poor whites have higher obesity-related well being costs than blacks or Hispanics. Respondents in the top income quintile who are obese and those who depart from the weight norm for their profession also suffer higher well being costs than the average. Stigma seems to be higher for those in higher status professions. We find modest evidence that causality runs from overweight to depression rather than the other way around. In Russia, in contrast, obesity and well being are positively correlated. The relationship seems to be driven by the prosperity that is associated with obesity rather than by the excess weight per se, and we find no evidence of stigma. In both countries, there is a wide margin in both countries for tailoring public health messages to marshal the attention of very different cohorts.

Suggested Citation

Graham, Carol and Felton, Andrew, Variance in Obesity Across Cohorts and Countries: A Norms-Based Explanation Using Happiness Surveys (September 2005). CSED Working Paper No. 42. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1024823 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1024823

Carol Graham (Contact Author)

Brookings Institution - Center on Social and Economic Dynamics ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
(202) 797-6022 (Phone)
(202) 797-2968 (Fax)

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

Andrew Felton

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System ( email )

20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20551
United States

University of Maryland - School of Public Affairs ( email )

College Park, MD 20742-1815
United States

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