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Will High Gas Prices Curb Obesity? Just Ask an Economist

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyAugust 5, 2008 7:40 PM


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While the gas price spike has already reduced the amount of miles Americans drive and perhaps even jump-started a bicycling movement, could it really put a dent in America's seemingly-unstoppable obesity rise? Charles Courtemanche, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina, certainly thinks so. According to his latest research, a permanent one-dollar rise in gas prices is associated with a seven percent drop in overweight Americans and a nine percent drop in obesity rates—the equivalent of about four to five pounds (1.8 to 2.3 kilograms) in lost weight across the entire U.S. population. His analysis was based on gasoline prices in several states from 1984 to 2004, which he compared with each state's average body weight and obesity rate. Granted, these results seem to fly in the face of the obesity epidemic's steady rise, which also began around twenty years ago—if gas prices were so steadily increasing and leading to weight loss, why were obesity levels simultaneously skyrocketing? Still, maybe some further data could bolster Courtemanche's theory. While his paper was originally published in May of 2007 (when gas was at a "record high" of $3.22 a gallon), it was revised this summer—with gas prices already $1 a gallon higher. Perhaps incorporating the last four (crucial, unstable) years of data into his model could shed some light on whether his four-pounds-a-person theory is accurate. If so, we're all going out for a burger. Image: iStockPhoto 

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