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Effect of Food Prices on the Prevalence of Obesity Among Young Adults

Han E and Powell LM. Public Health, 125(3):129-135, 2011.

Objective: To examine the extent to which various food prices were associated with the obesity status of young adults.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study of 6537 men and 5324 women in the USA using panel data from the Monitoring the Future Surveys (1992-2003), which were merged with two food-at-home and one food-away-from-home price measures from the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association.

Methods: Longitudinal individual random effect and fixed effect models were estimated.

Results: This study found that food prices did not have a significant effect on the prevalence of obesity among young female adults. For young adult men, an individual random effect estimator suggested that a 10% increase in the price of fast food was associated with a 13.2% decrease in the probability of obesity, but this effect lost its economic and statistical significance once individual fixed effects were controlled for in the estimation.

Conclusions: Overall, the results imply that observed time-varying individual characteristics, such as working status, marital status and school enrolment status, may over-ride the effect of changes in food prices for young adults. More research employing longitudinal data is necessary to determine if food subsidies or taxes, particularly soft drink and fast food taxes or subsidies for fruit and vegetables, could be effective policy measures to curtail the increasing prevalence of obesity among young adults.

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