Findings

Understanding Obesity

Kevin Lewis

May 01, 2010

When Healthy Food Makes You Hungry

Stacey Finkelstein & Ayelet Fishbach
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

Abstract:
Do subtle cues for imposed healthy eating make consumers hungry? Imposed healthy eating signals that the health goal was sufficiently met, and thus it increases the strength of the conflicting motive to fulfill one's appetite. Accordingly, consumers asked to sample an item framed as healthy later reported being hungrier and consumed more food than those who sampled the same item framed as tasty or those who did not eat at all. These effects of healthy eating depend on the consumer's perception that healthy eating is mandatory; therefore, only imposed healthy eating made consumers hungrier, whereas freely choosing to eat healthy did not increase hunger.

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The largest Last Supper: Depictions of food portions and plate size increased over the millennium

B. Wansink & C. S. Wansink
International Journal of Obesity, forthcoming

Abstract:
Portion sizes of foods have been noticably increasing in recent years, but when did this trend begin? If art imitates life and if food portions have been generally increasing with time, we might expect this trend to be reflected in paintings that depict food. Perhaps the most commonly painted meal has been that of Jesus Christ's Last Supper, chronicled in the New Testament of the Bible. A CAD-CAM analysis of the relative food-to-head ratio in 52 representative paintings of the Last Supper showed that the relative sizes of the main dish (entree) (r=0.52, P=0.002), bread (r=0.30, P=0.04), and plates (r=0.46, P=0.02) have linearly increased over the past millennium.

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Intergroup bias in weight controllability attributions

Jason Popan, Jared Kenworthy, Melisa Barden & Jenny Griffiths
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, May 2010, Pages 319-328

Abstract:
We examined weight controllability attributions for obese and non-obese targets who were either racial ingroup or outgroup members, predicting that attributions would be biased in favor of ingroup targets. In Experiment 1, white British participants attributed more controllability to obese than to non-obese targets overall, and this effect was more pronounced for black than for white targets. In Experiment 2, white and black American participants rated targets that were racial ingroup or outgroup members, fit or obese, and male or female. Again, the simple effect of target weight was stronger for racial outgroup than for racial ingroup targets. Consistent with past research on hierarchical category dominance for gender, the effects were stronger for same-gender targets than for opposite-gender targets.

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Promoting Healthy Choices: Information versus Convenience

Jessica Wisdom, Julie Downs & George Loewenstein
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, April 2010, Pages 164-178

Abstract:
Success in slowing obesity trends would benefit from policies aimed at reducing calorie consumption. In a field experiment at a fast-food sandwich chain, we address the effects of providing calorie information, mimicking recent legislation, and test an alternative approach that makes ordering healthier slightly more convenient. We find that calorie information reduces calorie intake. Providing a daily calorie target does as well, but only for non-overweight individuals. Making healthy choices convenient reduces intake when the intervention is strong. However, a milder implementation reduces sandwich calories, but does not reduce total calories due to compensatory effects on side orders and drinks.

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Changing Participation in Food Assistance Programs Among Low-Income Children after Welfare Reform

Jessica Erin Todd, Michele Ver Ploeg & Constance Newman
U.S. Department of Agriculture Working Paper, February 2010

Abstract:
In 1996, the safety net for poor households with children fundamentally changed when Federal legislation replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This study investigates participation in, and benefits received from, AFDC/TANF and food assistance programs, before and after the legislation, for children in low-income households (income below 300 percent of the Federal poverty line). The results show that, between 1990 and 2004, the share of children receiving food stamp benefits declined, most notably among children in the poorest households (income below 50 percent of the Federal poverty line). The share of children receiving benefits from the school meals programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and children (WIC) rose, mainly among children in low-income households with income above the Federal poverty line. Overall, the share of children in households that received benefits from AFDC/TANF or food assistance programs grew from 35 percent to 52 percent. However, the net result of these changes is that average total inflation-adjusted household benefits from all programs examined declined. The decline was largest among children in the poorest households.

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Do cigarette taxes affect children's body mass index? The effect of household environment on health

Jennifer Mellor
Health Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
Several recent studies demonstrate a positive effect of cigarette prices and taxes on obesity among adults, especially those who smoke. If higher cigarette costs affect smokers' weights by increasing calories consumed or increasing food expenditures, then cigarette taxes and prices may also affect obesity in children of smokers. This study examines the link between child body mass index (BMI) and obesity status and cigarette costs using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-79 (NLSY79). Controlling for various child, mother, and household characteristics as well as child-fixed effects, I find that cigarette taxes and prices increase BMI in the children of smoking mothers. Interestingly, and unlike previous research findings for adults, higher cigarette taxes do not increase the likelihood of obesity in children. These findings are consistent with a causal mechanism in which higher cigarette costs reduce smoking and increase food expenditures and consumption in the household.

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A commonly carried allele of the obesity-related FTO gene is associated with reduced brain volume in the healthy elderly

April Ho et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Abstract:
A recently identified variant within the fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene is carried by 46% of Western Europeans and is associated with an ~1.2 kg higher weight, on average, in adults and an ~1 cm greater waist circumference. With >1 billion overweight and 300 million obese persons worldwide, it is crucial to understand the implications of carrying this very common allele for the health of our aging population. FTO is highly expressed in the brain and elevated body mass index (BMI) is associated with brain atrophy, but it is unknown how the obesity-associated risk allele affects human brain structure. We therefore generated 3D maps of regional brain volume differences in 206 healthy elderly subjects scanned with MRI and genotyped as part of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. We found a pattern of systematic brain volume deficits in carriers of the obesity-associated risk allele versus noncarriers. Relative to structure volumes in the mean template, FTO risk allele carriers versus noncarriers had an average brain volume difference of ~8% in the frontal lobes and 12% in the occipital lobes-these regions also showed significant volume deficits in subjects with higher BMI. These brain differences were not attributable to differences in cholesterol levels, hypertension, or the volume of white matter hyperintensities; which were not detectably higher in FTO risk allele carriers versus noncarriers. These brain maps reveal that a commonly carried susceptibility allele for obesity is associated with structural brain atrophy, with implications for the health of the elderly.


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