Gluttony and Sloth

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Date and Time: 
Monday, April 13, 2015
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Rachel Griffith
The University of Manchester

The number of individuals that are overweight and obese has increased across the developed world. The economics literature has emphasised an increase in food consumption as the main cause, while papers that have suggested that reduced physical activity and technological change also might play an important role have received less attention. The medical literature has also highlighted excess food consumption, although the recent literature has highlighted a reduction in activity as an
important factor. A confounding factor in understanding the causes has been a lack of good time series data on food consumption and physical activity. We make three contributions in this paper. First, we bring together household level expenditure data for England with nutritional information over thirty years to provide a more complete picture of how diets have changed than in the previous literature. We show that, while there has been an increase in some high calorie categories like
fast food, snacks and drinks, there has been a substantial decrease in total calories purchased, and there have also been improvements in diet quality along a number of important dimensions. Second, we compile data on time use and physical activity over thirty years from a number of sources and show that these have changed in important ways, with work, travel and other activities becoming less strenuous. Third, we show that together these data provide an accurate explanation of patterns of weight gain over the past three decades.