Does This Recession Make Me Look Fat? (Ep. 61)
We seem to be in the midst of a national obsession with obesity. Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is about some of the surprising contributors, and possible economic solutions, to the problem. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
One suspected contributor to obesity, for instance, is the drastic decline in smoking in recent years. It’s great news that fewer people smoke but, according to Vanderbilt economist Kip Viscusi, people who quit smoking tend to gain weight.
RUHM: What we’ve learned over the last decade or so is an initially surprising fact that when times are bad, people get healthier over many dimensions and one of those appears to be obesity. So that for example, if my income is down, I don’t go out to eat as often, and meals eaten out of the home are probably less healthy and more caloric.
So what’s the overall relationship between the Great Recession and weight gain? The CDC recently released data indicating that obesity rates had leveled off in the last few years, but it’s too early to tell. Furthermore, Dhaval Dave, an economist at Bentley University, has found evidence on exercise and eating habits during economic downturns that could conflict with Ruhm’s finding.
Obesity plainly has many contributing factors and no single solution. At least part of the problem, though, boils down to basic economics: high-caloric food tends to be really cheap (and delicious!). So we talk with Kai Ryssdal about some of the possible ways to trim our collective waistline, from a food-subsidy overhaul to so-called “fat taxes.”
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