NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility

David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Bert Van Landeghem

NBER Working Paper No. 14337
Issued in September 2008
NBER Program(s):   HC   HE   LS

If human beings care about their relative weight, a form of imitative obesity can emerge (in which people subconsciously keep up with the weight of the Joneses). Using Eurobarometer data on 29 countries, this paper provides cross-sectional evidence that overweight perceptions and dieting are influenced by a person's relative BMI, and longitudinal evidence from the German Socioeconomic Panel that well-being is influenced by relative BMI. Highly educated people see themselves as fatter -- at any given actual weight -- than those with low education. These results should be treated cautiously, and fixed-effects estimates are not always well-determined, but there are grounds to take seriously the possibility of socially contagious obesity.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14337

Published: David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald & Bert Van Landeghem, 2009. "Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 528-538, 04-05. citation courtesy of

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