Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity

36 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2011 Last revised: 13 Jun 2011

See all articles by Charles Courtemanche

Charles Courtemanche

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro - Department of Economics

Patrick McAlvanah

Federal Trade Commission - Bureau of Economics

Date Written: March 23, 2011

Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between time preference, food prices, and body mass index (BMI). We present a model predicting that impatient individuals should both weigh more than patient individuals and experience sharper increases in weight in response to falling food prices. We then provide evidence to support these predictions using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth matched with local food prices from the Council for Community and Economic Research. Our findings suggest that the interaction of changing economic incentives with impatience can help to explain the shift to the right and thickening of the tails of the BMI distribution. Interestingly, we find no evidence of a relationship between time preference and weight loss attempts, suggesting that the observed effect on BMI represents rational inter-temporal substitution rather than self-control problems.

Keywords: Obesity, weight, body mass index, discount factor, discount rate, time preference, food prices

JEL Classification: I10, D9

Suggested Citation

Courtemanche, Charles and McAlvanah, Patrick, Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity (March 23, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1793525 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1793525

Charles Courtemanche (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro - Department of Economics ( email )

Greensboro, NC 27402-6165
United States

Patrick McAlvanah

Federal Trade Commission - Bureau of Economics ( email )

600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Mail Drop HQ238
Washington, DC 20580
United States

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