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Economic Stress and Body Weight During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nathalie Mathieu-Bolh ()

Studies in Microeconomics, 2021, vol. 9, issue 2, 256-282

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused income loss for many households, disrupting food consumption patterns and contributing to weight loss for some, and weight gain for others. In this article, I build a dynamic theoretical model that explains those empirical facts. The novelty of this paper is to incorporate stress caused by a lower than ideal income (economic stress) in a model of optimal intertemporal food consumption decisions made by a rational eater. In this framework, economic stress causes disutility and individuals can cope by increasing high-calorie food consumption (stress eating). The limitation to this coping mechanism is that being overweight from excessive calorie intake also decreases utility. Thus, a decrease in income causes updates of the constraints faced by rational consumers of food, which are a budget constraint, a stress constraint and a weight gain constraint. As a consequence, the effect of a decrease in income on body weight reflects a competing income effect as well as two effects specific to economic stress, which are an intertemporal substitution effect and a stress eating effect. Those effects explain opposite weight patterns observed during the pandemic. JEL Classification: D11, D91, I12, I14

Keywords: Obesity; Stress; income; COVID-19 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/23210222211053915

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