Academic journal article Journal of Applied Economics & Policy

Obesity and the College Dining Commons

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Economics & Policy

Obesity and the College Dining Commons

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Obesity is recognized as a serious health problem facing Americans today. Although the rate of increase in adult obesity may be slowing, this good news comes after decades of steady increases (Ogden et al., 2012). A CDC / NCHS study found that in 2009 - 2010, 35.5 percent of U.S. adult men and 35.8 percent of women were obese (CDC / NCHS 2009 - 2010). Some studies have shown that the average weight gain in students during their college years is significant, with estimates ranging up to 13 pounds for females and 23 pounds for males (Racette et al., 2005 and 2008, Levitsky et al., 2004 and 2006). Researchers have explored possible reasons for student weight gain, but there is still much to be learned (Lloyd-Richardson et al., 2009, Mokdad et al, 1999, Strong et al., 2008). Indeed, some researchers have found no significant weight gain in this age group. Thus, the results are mixed and reveal a need for further study.

This paper adds to existing research by analyzing the effect of membership in a mandatory meal plan that entitles plan members to a large number of meals in an all you care to eat (AYCE) dining hall on body mass index (BMI) change. It also explores hypothesized relationships between BMI change and emotional, physical activity, and nutritional factors. Prior research has examined both self-reported and laboratory data to estimate the impacts of different behavioral and environmental factors on weight change. Recently, there has been an interest in the effects of AYCE dining on college campuses (Nelson et al, 2009, and Pliner et al, 2008). This interest is well justified considering the many important ways in which varying economic rules change human behavior; from the way changing tax structures altar individuals' incentives to provide work effort to the way in which changing market types alter the allocations of total surplus between buyers and sellers, indeed, the examples are too numerous to catalogue here.

This study improves our understanding of the effect of AY CE dining on weight change by analyzing the effect of a student meal plan on students' weight changes at a regional state college. Students at the regional state college included in this study who were living on campus were required to purchase an AYCE meal plan while those commuting were not.1 This requirement makes it possible to construct parallel treatment groups who differ in whether or not they are forced to participate in an AY CE meal plan. A study similar to this study from 2004 focused on incoming freshmen at Cornell University (Levitskey et al., 2004). In that paper, researchers attempted to estimate the effect on weight gain in students from consuming meals in an AYCE dining hall (among other variables of interest) using data from 60 freshmen subjects. However, their ability to accurately estimate any effect from eating in ComelTs AYCE dining hall is hampered by the fact that there is no control group (students that did not eat a majority of meals in the dining hall) and thus, there is little variation in the type of economic institution measured.

This study seeks to accomplish the following objectives. First, construct a theoretical model of behavior under AYCE dining. Second, develop hypotheses to illustrate relationships between explanatory factors related to BMI. Third, examine the importance of each explanatory factor in predicting BMI and BMI change. Accomplishing these objectives will add some clarity to the mixed results in the literature, shed light on the effect of AYCE dining on BMI, serve as a foundation for the development of new theory, and infonn policymaking. In the next section of the paper, we offer a simple economic model of AYCE dining along with several other hypothesized relationships. This is followed by sections containing the literature review, data, methods, results, and conclusions.

II. Factors

A. AYCE Dining

A priori, economic theory predicts that the impact of increased frequency of AYCE meals will have a positive effect on BMI. …

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