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Development Discussion Paper
Thinness and Obesity: A Model of Food Consumption, Health Concerns, and Social Pressure
Davide Dragone and Luca Savorelli
June 2010
Paper No' EOPP 017:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D91;I18

Tags: body weight; diet; obesity; social pressure; underweight.

The increasing concern of the policy maker about eating behavior has focused on the spread of obesity and on the evidence of a consistent number of individuals dieting despite being underweight. As the latter behavior is often attributed to the social pressure to be thin, some governments have already taken actions to ban ultra-thin ideals and testimonials. Assuming that people are heterogeneous in their healthy weights, but are exposed to the same ideal body weight, this paper proposes a theoretical framework to assess whether increasing the ideal body weight is socially desirable, both from a welfare and from a health point of view. If being overweight is the average condition and the ideal body weight is thin, increasing the ideal body weight may increase welfare by reducing social pressure. By contrast, health is on average reduced, since people depart even further from their healthy weight. Given that in the US and in Europe people are on average overweight, we conclude that these policies, even when are welfare improving, may foster the obesity epidemic.