The Long-Run Growth in Obesity as a Function of Technological Change

Tomas J. Philipson, Richard A. Posner

NBER Working Paper No. 7423
Issued in November 1999
NBER Program(s):Health Economics

This paper analyzes the factors contributing to the worldwide long-run rise in obesity and the effects of public interventions on its continued growth. The growth of obesity in a population results from an increase in calorie consumption relative to physical activity. Yet in developed countries, obesity has grown with modest rises in calorie consumption and with a substantial increase in both dieting and recreational exercise. We consider the economic incentives that give rise to a growth in obesity by stimulating intake of calories while discouraging the expending of calories on physical activity. We argue that technological change provides a natural interpretation of the long-run growth in obesity despite a rise in dieting and exercise, that it predicts that the effect of income on obesity falls with economic development, and that it implies that the growth in obesity may be self-limiting.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7423

Published: Philipson, T., and R. Posner. “The Long Run Growth of Obesity as a Function of Technological Change." Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46, 3 (Summer 2003): 87-108.

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