Arnold Kling  

Economics of Obesity

Inefficient Market?... The Language Barrier, II...

Economists Shin-Yi Chou, Michael Grossman, and Henry Saffer attempt to weigh in on the issue of why obesity is spreading.

These data show that more household time is going to market work. There is
correspondingly less time and energy available for home and leisure activities such as food preparation and active leisure. The increases in hours worked and labor force participation rates, reductions in wage rates, and declines or modest increases in real income experienced by certain groups appear to have stimulated the demand for inexpensive convenience and fast food which has increased caloric intakes. At the same time, the reduction in the time available for active leisure has reduced calories expended.
The final trend that we wish to call attention to is the anti-smoking campaign, which began to accelerate in the early 1970s. Individuals who quit smoking typically gain weight.

The authors view work outside the home and fattening food as complements. They say that the data supports this hypothesis, because obesity increases as work outside the home increases.
For Discussion. If the authors are correct, then what effect would a tax on fast food consumption have on labor force participation?

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CATEGORIES: Microeconomics

COMMENTS (2 to date)
David Thomson writes:

Yeah, and I am spreading the rumor that Shaq O’Neal is terrified of facing me on the basketball court. Let’s get something straight right here and now: many meals can be prepared faster than it takes to drive to a restaurant! I know this to be true because I constantly do the cooking in my family. People constantly lie to themselves. The argument that one eats fast food due to a busy workday doesn’t pass the smell test. I’m sure the same people would find another excuse if they were unemployed.

David Thomson writes:

Many years ago an auto company wanted to know what truly motivated the potential buyer. Stupidly, they asked people what type of vehicle did they personally prefer. These folks generally asserted that they would look for a stable and prudent car. However, eventually the pollsters learned to instead ask what their brain-dead and irresponsible neighbors might like to buy. Needless to add, the truth finally came out. They really lusted for a snazzy gas guzzling auto. The same almost certainly holds true regarding what people will actually pay money for in a fast food restaurant. MacDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King sell only what the consumer truly desires. Does anybody really believe otherwise?

I can also offer some personal anecdotal evidence. Some years ago, I worked at a new restaurant as a waiter that did not serve fried fish. The owner was delusionally convinced that enough people were becoming more health conscious to make his business viable. I remember well the very first people who every entered the restaurant on its opening day. Alas, they left immediately when they found out that we served only broiled fish! The restaurant closed down within a year.

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