Behavioral Economics of Obesity: Food intake and Energy Expenditure
Leonard H. Epstein Brian E. Saelens University at Buffalo
Most people make many choices regarding their eating and exercise behaviors every day. When they awake, they must decide whether to eat breakfast, what to eat, and how much to eat. Then they have to decide whether to walk, bike, or take the car to work. Should they pack walking shoes or exercise clothes, or are they not going to exercise that day? There are multiple decisions regarding eating snacks, meals, and activity plans throughout the day that involve such factors as relative preferences for and access to the alternatives. Behavioral economics provides a comprehensive methodological and conceptual approach to studying choices of what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat, as well as whether to be active, what type of activity, at what intensity, and for what duration ( Epstein, 1995).
Obesity is one of the most relevant applications for behavioral choice theory for eating and activity behaviors. Obesity is a major public health problem, with its prevalence increasing in adults ( Kuczmarski, Flegel, Campbell , & Johnson, 1994) and children ( Trolano, Flegel, Kuczmarski, Campbell, & Johnson, 1995). Obesity is an energy balance problem, with energy intake exceeding energy expenditure, resulting in weight gain ( Epstein, 1995). The behavioral treatment and prevention of obesity involves modifying intake and expenditure behaviors. However, weight control interventions typically have poor long-term efficacy ( Brownell & Jeffery, 1987). Behavioral economic studies regarding eating and activity may provide new insights into ways to improve weight control ( Epstein, 1995).