Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity

WSU School of Economic Sciences Working Paper No. 2007-16

31 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2007  

Trenton G. Smith

University of Otago

Christiana Stoddard

Montana State University - Bozeman

Michael G. Barnes

Washington State University - School of Economic Sciences

Date Written: March 2007

Abstract

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.

Keywords: obesity, unemployment, moral hazard

JEL Classification: D12, I12, I18, I38, J22, J65

Suggested Citation

Smith, Trenton G. and Stoddard, Christiana and Barnes, Michael G., Why the Poor Get Fat: Weight Gain and Economic Insecurity (March 2007). WSU School of Economic Sciences Working Paper No. 2007-16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=979189 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.979189

Trenton G. Smith (Contact Author)

University of Otago ( email )

PO Box 56
Dunedin
New Zealand

HOME PAGE: http://www.business.otago.ac.nz/econ/staff/smith.html

Christiana Stoddard

Montana State University - Bozeman ( email )

Bozeman, MT 59717-2920
United States

Michael G. Barnes

Washington State University - School of Economic Sciences ( email )

P.O. Box 646210
Hulbert Hall 101
Pullman, WA 99164-6210
United States

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