Life cycle development of obesity and its determinants in six European countries

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Abstract

This paper empirically examines the effect of parents’ and individuals’ own socioeconomic status on overweight and obesity, and investigates how this effect changes over the life cycle. The impact of individuals’ health behaviours on their obesity status later in life is also studied.

We use data from Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, the Netherlands and the U.K. in which 4595 individuals aged 50–65 are surveyed and where individuals’ height and weight at different ages (25, 35, 45 and current age) are available. We perform “repeated cross-sections” analyses as well as dynamic probit analyses of the individuals’ obesity histories. We contribute to the literature by examining the role of a variety of obesity determinants over the whole life cycle, not only over a certain portion of individuals’ lives.

Key findings are: (i) parents’ socioeconomic status predicts obesity in early adulthood whereas the individual's own socioeconomic status as adult is more important in explaining obesity at later stages of the life cycle, (ii) changes in obesity status are associated with changes in health behaviours, (iii) obesity in late adulthood is strongly and positively correlated with overweight and obesity in younger ages, and (iv) cross-country differences in obesity and overweight largely remain after controlling for parental and childhood factors and individuals’ health behaviours.

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