Food Prices and the Dynamics of Body Weight

36 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2009  

Dana P. Goldman

RAND Corporation; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Darius N. Lakdawalla

University of Southern California - Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics; RAND Corporation; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Yuhui Zheng

RAND Corporation

Date Written: June 2009

Abstract

A popular policy option for addressing the growth in weight has has been the imposition of a "fat tax" on selected foods that are deemed to promote obesity. Understanding the public economics of "fat taxes" requires an understanding of how or even whether individuals respond to changes in food prices over the long-term. We study the short- and long-run body weight consequences of changing food prices, in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We found very modest short-term effects of price per calorie on body weight, and the magnitudes align with the previous literature. The long-term effect is much bigger, but it takes a long time for the effect to reach the full scale. Within 30 years, a 10% permanent reduction in price per calorie would lead to a BMI increase of 1.5 units (or 3.6%). The long term effect is an increase of 1.9 units of BMI (or 4.2%). From a policy perspective, these results suggest that policies raising the price of calories will have little effect on weight in the short term, but might curb the rate of weight growth and achieve weight reduction over a very long period of time.

Suggested Citation

Goldman, Dana P. and Lakdawalla, Darius N. and Zheng, Yuhui, Food Prices and the Dynamics of Body Weight (June 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15096. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1422974

Dana P. Goldman (Contact Author)

RAND Corporation ( email )

P.O. Box 2138
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Darius N. Lakdawalla

University of Southern California - Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics ( email )

635 Downey Way
Los Angeles, CA 90089-3333
United States

RAND Corporation ( email )

P.O. Box 2138
1700 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Yuhui Zheng

RAND Corporation ( email )

1776 Main Street
P.O. Box 2138
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
United States

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