Native American Obesity: An Economic Model of the "Thrifty Gene" Theory

Native American obesity and the associated health conditions are generally thought to result in part from a genetic predisposition to overeating fats and carbohydrates, called the "thrifty gene." Although coined by nutritional scientists, this study maintains the origin of the thrifty gene lies in economics. Apparently harmful overconsumption and addiction constitute economically rational behavior if the increment to current utility from adding to one's stock of "consumption capital" is greater than the present value of utility lost in the future due to ill health and the costs of withdrawal. Tests of these conditions for such "rational addiction" are conducted using two-stage household production approach. The results obtained by estimating this model in a panel of Native and non-Native supermarket scanner data show that both Natives and non-Natives tend to be inherently forward-looking in their nutrient choices, but Natives tend to have far higher long-run demand elasticities for carbohydrates compared to non-Natives. Consequently, reductions in real food prices over time, primarily among foods that are dense in simple carbohydrates, leads Native Americans to over-consume potentially harmful nutrients relative to their traditional diet.


Issue Date:
2004
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/28544
Total Pages:
42
Series Statement:
Working Paper MSABR 04-1




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-22

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