Chapter 3: The Economics of Childhood Obesity Policy
John Cawley1 INTRODUCTION Since the early 1970s, the prevalence of overweight (deﬁned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a body mass index above the historic 95th percentile for age) has more than doubled among children aged 2–5 years, almost quadrupled for children aged 6–11 years and more than doubled among adolescents aged 12–19 years. During 1999–2000 the prevalence of overweight was 11.6 percent among children aged 6–23 months, 10.4 percent among those aged 2–5 years, 15.3 percent among those aged 6–11, and 15.5 percent among those aged 12–19 (Ogden et al., 2002). (For more information on the prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents, see the chapter by Henderson in this volume.) Childhood obesity is associated with severe health consequences, including asthma, hypertension, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease – leading medical authorities to declare the rise in childhood obesity a public health crisis (Ebbeling et al. 2002; Kimm and Obarzanek, 2002). In addition to the impact on physical health, obesity also imposes on children the psychosocial costs of stigma, depression and low self-esteem (Puhl and Brownell, 2002; Strauss, 2000). While the prevalence of adult obesity has also risen considerably since 1980 (Flegal et al., 2002), this chapter focuses on childhood obesity because it is of greater policy interest. With adults there is an assumption of consumer sovereignty. In contrast children are generally accepted to be unable to weigh the future consequences of their actions, so governments regulate the...
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