A Household Production Approach to Overweight: A Model and Preliminary Estimates

Article excerpt


Using a health capital model and a national sample, this study provides preliminary estimates of the impact of socio-economic, behavioral and demographic variables on the likelihood of being overweight. Findings indicate that active lifestyle, moderation of fast food intake, and eating more meals "made from scratch," are associated with a healthy weight. Older persons, men, people with a family history of overweight and sedentary lifestyles are associated with overweight. While the results are not earth shattering, the study shows promise for an economic approach to estimating overweight and points to logical policy outcomes including the promotion enjoyable physical activity and teaching people to prepare simple meals from "scratch." It also sheds light on the debate as to whether the obesity epidemic of caused by individual choice or industry actions. Our results point to both consumer and market forces as contributing to an overweight America.


Over the past several decades, obesity rates have nearly doubled: 30 percent of Americans are currently obese, and 64 percent are overweight (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, & Johnson, 2002; U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2004; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004). With as many as 400,000 Americans dying in the year 2000 due to poor diet and a lack of physical activity, obesity is on track to overtake tobacco as the greatest cause of preventable death in the country (Mokdad, Marks, Stroup, & Gerberding, 2005; Mokdad, Marks, Stroup, & Gerberding, 2004).

No one approach to the empirical study of obesity, therefore, appears to offer an accurate, full representation of all the factors that lead to increasing rates of obesity. However, an economic approach is rich enough to include individual, biological and environmental variables. While the existing literature covers a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from time use and food choice to gender and poverty, an overarching theme is that household production of meals and energy expenditure through time use and purchased input choices do impact the obesity epidemic. In turn, the obesity epidemic impacts the productivity of the nation through a decline in the stock of health capital. Clearly, overweight does not seem to be providing utility. Americans do not want to be overweight. In 2000, almost three quarters of Americans were eating fewer calories or less fat (or both) in order to lose weight or keep from gaining weight (CDC, 2006). At the same time, almost 70 percent of Americans were actively using physical activity or exercise to lose weight or keep from gaining weight (CDC, 2006). The above literature suggests that the household production model may serve as an effective framework for the examination of the building of health capital in terms of a healthy weight.Using a model based on the production of health capital, we empirically examine the contributions that food inputs and physical activity outputs have on overweight. We utilize a national household database that includes information about food inputs, exercise patterns, sociodemographic characteristics and tastes and preferences.


We use Grossman's (1972a, 1972b) model of the demand for health capital to model consumer demand for a healthy weight. Grossman (1972a, 1972b) developed his model for the demand for health capital as an extension of human capital theory developed by Shultz (1960) and Becker (1964), and of Becker's (1965) theory on the allocation of time. …