Published by the MIT Press for the European Economic Association
Journal of the European Economic Association vol:7 issue:2/3 pages:528-538
If human beings care about their relative weight, a form of imitative obesity can emerge (in which people subconsciously keep up with the weight of the Joneses). Using Eurobarometer data on 29 countries, this paper provides cross-sectional evidence that overweight perceptions and dieting are influenced by a person’s relative BMI, and longitudinal evidence from the
German Socioeconomic Panel that well-being is influenced by relative BMI. Highly educated people see themselves as fatter—at any given actual weight—than those with low education.
These results should be treated cautiously, and fixed-effects estimates are not always well determined, but there are grounds to take seriously the possibility of socially contagious obesity.