Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Papers,
Lund University, Department of Economics

No 2009:3: More equal but heavier: A longitudinal analysis of income-related obesity inequalities in an adult Swedish cohort

Åsa Ljungvall () and Ulf-G Gerdtham ()
Additional contact information
Åsa Ljungvall: Department of Economics, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economics, School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Box 7082, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden
Ulf-G Gerdtham: Department of Economics, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economics, School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Box 7082, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Using longitudinal data over a 17 year period for a Swedish cohort aged 20-68 in 1980/81, this study analyses income-related inequalities in obesity. By use of the concentration index and decomposition techniques we answer the following questions: 1) Does obesity inequality favour or disfavour the poor? 2) What factors explain this inequality at different points in time? 3) How can the pattern of inequality over time be explained? We find that among females, inequalities in obesity favour the rich, but the estimated inequality declines over time. Income and marital status are the main driving forces behind obesity inequality, and income explains the majority of the declined obesity inequality over time. The results indicate that the main reason for the reduced obesity inequality is increased obesity prevalence, because in absolute terms obesity has increased uniformly across income groups. Thus we conclude that the reduced inequality is not due to any health policy success. Since the income elasticity of obesity is the individual most important contributor to the observed inequality, policies directed towards this factor might be the most effective. Similar trends are found for males, although less pronounced. This should be taken into account when evaluating obesity reducing policies.

Keywords: obesity; income; inequality; ageing; women; concentration index; decomposition; Oaxaca; panel data

JEL-codes: I12; I18

36 pages, March 9, 2009

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