One Way To Reduce Healthcare Costs From Obesity

Higher wages mean healthier eating.

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UPDATED 09/01/2009: Well as anyone who has read this has noticed, I misinterpreted this study pretty badly. The study actually found that higher wages had the REVERSE effect than that I suggested: they encourage grazing because their time becomes more valuable, and they don't dedicate time to actual eating.

Obesity has become almost more of an economic issue than a health issue in recent years, as policymakers propose various taxes, labelling regulations and bans on trans fats. Many of these policies are sold as partial solutions to the explosion of healthcare costs. But a new economics paper suggests that simply making people richer is a powerful way to promote healthier eating habits and create a drop in BMI (body-mass index a common measure of obesity.)

A problem boosting obesity among Americans is "grazing." These are the midnight snacks, extra trips to the cookie jar and linners (that's the extra meal between lunch and dinner) that we're all guilty of. How do you reduce grazing? Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas found that higher wages meant less grazing. Here's why:

When time becomes more valuable (as proxied by the hourly wage), people substitute grazing for eating, essentially switching to multi-tasking an activity that may be one of the more readily multi-tasked.

When your time is more precious (because you have higher earning potential with that time), you cut out the time-wasting activities like grazing, and your meals start to more closely resemble the healthier three square meals.

(HT: Mungowitz.)