Obesity, Poverty, and the Ability to Pay for Calories

Susan L. Averett

in The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Poverty

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195393781
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Obesity, Poverty, and the Ability to Pay for Calories

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  • Economics
  • Health, Education, and Welfare
  • Microeconomics


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This article examines the relationship between obesity and socioeconomic status (SES) for adults. It presents evidence indicating that women and white and Hispanic men with incomes below the poverty line are disproportionately more likely to be obese and that this is a particularly acute problem for black and Hispanic women. The article is organized as follows. Section 2 discusses measures of obesity used in the social science literature. Section 3 uses data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to examine trends in obesity across time by SES, race and sex. Section 4 presents an economic framework for considering why the poor are more likely to be obese. Section 5 uses data from the 2005 cross-section of the BRFSS to explore these socioeconomic status differences in obesity by using the economic framework developed in Section 4 as a guide. Section 6 examines several other explanations for the rising obesity rates in the United States. Finally, Section 7 summarizes the findings and makes suggestions for future research.

Keywords: socioeconomic status; poor; health status; Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; black women; Hispanic women; obesity rates

Article.  20853 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Health, Education, and Welfare ; Microeconomics

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