Imperfect information on physical activity and caloric intake☆

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Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data, I find that individuals who overestimate their activity level by one standard deviation consume 40–60 extra calories per day, or enough to gain five pounds per year. These extra calories are composed mainly of sugar and carbohydrate, and are concentrated among individuals in the 75th and 90th percentiles of caloric intake. The link between overeating and inaccurate estimation of physical activity is strongest among less educated individuals and individuals with high variance in their physical activity, suggesting that imperfect recall or information gaps explain at least part of the relationship of interest. These results imply the existence of a necessary condition for physical activity-based information treatments to be effective in changing health behaviors and obesity rates.

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