NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 25, 2006

The increased prevalence of obesity in the United States stresses the pressing need for answers as to why this rapid rise has occurred, says the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Blacks, Hispanics, males, older people and those who are married or widowed, have higher BMIs. People with higher incomes and those with a college education have lower BMIs. Men are "more likely to have a higher BMI but less likely to be obese."

In a recent study, coauthors Inas Rashad, Michael Grossman and Shin-Yi Chou account for 79 percent of the change in body mass index (BMI) for males and a 1 percent change in BMI for females. Their results suggest that:

  • As the number of restaurants per capita increases so does BMI. The average BMI will rise by 0.09 percent if the per capita number of restaurants increases by one percent.
  • The rapid increase in obesity in the 1980s is partly an "unintended consequence of the campaign to reduce smoking."

On balance, however, the authors conclude that "the increase in the per capita number of restaurants makes the largest contribution to the BMI outcome, accounting for 54 percent of the growth" in a pooled sample of men and women.

Source: Linda Gorman, "Economic Explanations of Increased Obesity," NBER Digest, April 2006; based upon; Inas Rashad, Michael Grossman and Shin-Yi Chou, "The Super Size of America: An Economic Estimation of Body Mass Index and Obesity in Adults," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 11584, August 2005.

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