Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Consumer Behaviour, Obesity and Social Costs. the Case of Italy

Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Consumer Behaviour, Obesity and Social Costs. the Case of Italy

Article excerpt


This study analyses the social impact of obesity, focusing on the direct costs and, in particular, on the health-care expenditure. Using different socio-demographic variables and through the use of Multiple Correspondence Analysis and Partial Least Squares Regression, the analysis: i) confirms the increase of the incidence of overweight and obesity when moving from Northern to Southern Italy; ii) identifies the main variables related to the growth of obesity; iii) highlights a positive relationship between BMI and health-care costs and an incidence of 6% on the regional health-care costs. These findings confirm the need to define suitable guidelines for decision makers and practitioners and to introduce mandatory regulations forcing companies to effectuate product reformulation and achieve food safety. Indeed, asymmetric information and consumer behaviour make investing in product reformulation undesirable for companies because the use of attractive brands is more effective in influencing the purchasing decisions even of a conscious consumer. Uninformed consumers often cling to the national brands, which sometimes, behind an image of familiarity and identity, may hide harmful ingredients (hydrogenated fats) or excessive quantities of certain ingredients (sugar, salt, saturated fat) responsible for an unbalanced diet. Therefore, this justifies the introduction of binding regulations.

Keywords: Consumer Behaviour; Obesity; Social Costs; Health-Care Expenditure; Multivariate Model.


The rise in worldwide obesity, more than doubled since 1980 (WHO, 2013), has generated growing interest and concern in the international political and cultural debate, appearing not only as an emergency relating to the medical-scientific field, but, for several aspects, as an economic issue too. The World Health Organization (2013) underlines how every year about 2.8 million people die as a result of problems related to excess weight, as more than 500 million people, from twenty years old upwards, are obese, and, stresses that the severity of the problem is likely to worsen both in industrialized (North America and Europe) and in developing countries (China, India, South America). This will lead to important consequences both in terms of economic and health policy. Recent studies have indeed shown that the rise in obesity leads to social costs, both direct and indirect, for the economic system, not, therefore, only negative effects on the health of individuals (increased risk of myocardial infarction, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, asthma and depression; Dixon, 2010; Hu, 2008), but also social costs such as marginalization, low productivity, increased health care costs, posing a serious threat to social well-being (Losasso et al., 2012).

Therefore, foundational economic determinants can be found among the causes and consequences of obesity. In fact, several factors influence our food choices, our physical activity and, consequently, our weight. The increase in obesity also depends on biological and genetic factors, but these alone do not provide a sufficient explanation (Finkelstein, Ruhm, Kosa, 2005). Moreover, there are many economic and social variables, changing over time, which have played a significant role. For example, some studies have identified technological change as one of the main reasons for the increase in obesity (Philipson, Posner, 1999; Lakdawalla, Philipson, 2002), others, however, have focused on those individual variables, both psychological and socio-demographic, at the base of a rational addictive behavior of the individual. Therefore, the aim of this paper, as an initial step, is to identify those sociodemographic variables that have a significant impact on increasing obesity and, as a second step, to analyze, through the application of a linear regression model, the relationship between obesity and health-care costs. This research is structured as follows. …

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