Body Mass Index and Women's Work Behavior in the United States: Much Ado About (Practically) Nothing

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Ball, Jennifer
Washburn University. School of Business
Kaw Valley Bank
Issue Date
November 2008
Alternative Title
Most research in the area of economics and obesity attempts to identify the cause(s) of the increase in the average body mass index (BMI) in developed countries. Common themes include lower relative food prices, technological advances that have led to more sedentary work and leisure activities and a larger number of ready-to-eat food products for sale, a cultural shift toward greater discounting of the future, and an increase in the consumption of restaurant and other prepared foods due to the rise in women's labor force participation. This paper includes a survey of the literature regarding women's work behavior and their children's BMIs, and it also contains an analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 2006 to confirm earlier findings. Missing from the literature are analyses of women's work behavior and their own BMIs, and women's work behavior and their adult family members' BMIs, so this paper also includes analysis of data provided by the Integrated Health Interview Series in 2006 to explore these relationships. The results show there is a little evidence women's increased participation in the labor force is a significant contributor to higher BMIs in the United States.