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Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility

David G. Blanchflower (), Andrew J. Oswald and Bert G.M. Van Landeghem ()

No 4010, IZA Discussion Papers from Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Abstract: 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.

Keywords: mental health; dieting; peer effects; happiness; imitation; comparisons; body mass index BMI; well-being; obesity (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D1 I12 I31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hap, nep-hea and nep-upt
Date: 2009-02
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Published in: Journal of the European Economic Association, 2009, 7(2-3), 528 - 538

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