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NBER WORKING PAPER SERIES

THE GROWTH OF OBESITY AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE: A THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL EXAMINATION

Darius Lakdawalla Tomas Philipson

Working Paper 8946 http://www.nber.org/papers/w8946

NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 May 2002

We wish to thank seminar participants at AEI, The University of Chicago, Columbia University, Harvard University, MIT, The University of Toronto, UCLA, Yale University, the 2001 American Economic Association Meetings, the 2001 Population Association of America Meetings, the 12 th Annual Health Economics Conference, as well as Gary Becker, Shankha Chakraborty, Mark Duggan, Michael Grossman, John Mullahy, Casey Mulligan, and Richard Posner. Neeraj Sood and Erin Krupka provided excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

© 2002 by Darius Lakdawalla and Tomas Philipson. All rights reserved. Short sections of text, not to exceed two paragraphs, may be quoted without explicit permission provided that full credit, including © notice, is given to the source.

The Growth of Obesity and Technological Change: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination Darius Lakdawalla and Tomas Philipson NBER Working Paper No. 8946 May 2002 JEL No. I1

ABSTRACT This paper provides a theoretical and empirical examination of the long-run growth in weight over time. We argue that technological change has induced weight growth by making home- and marketproduction more sedentary and by lowering food prices through agricultural innovation. We analyze how such technological change leads to unexpected relationships among income, food prices, and weight. Using individual-level data from 1976 to 1994, we then find that such technology-based reductions in food prices and job-related exercise have had significant impacts on weight across time and populations. In particular, we find that...