Imitative obesity and relative utility

Imitative obesity and relative utility

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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.Our central conclusion is that, while much remains to be understood, there is empirical support for the idea that ... It may be that peoplea#39;s preference functions contain as an argument their relative BMI. ... and Cawley (2008) that this measure of fatness has limitations, but for simplicity in this paper BMI is taken as the standard.

Title:Imitative obesity and relative utility
Author: David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Bert van Landeghem, National Bureau of Economic Research
Publisher: - 2008

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