Tipping the Scales: Do Gasoline Prices Fuel the Obesity Epidemic?

Student Author(s)

Matthew Glowacki

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sarah Estelle

Document Type


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Above normal body mass index (BMI) has become the norm for adults in the U.S., with overweight or obesity affecting two thirds of adults. Now, with gasoline prices falling, American households saved $700 in annual gasoline expenditures in 2015 relative to 2014, it raises the question of whether this savings will translate into more expenditures on healthy activities. This paper examines the effects of changing gasoline prices on the obesity epidemic in the United States. I model consumer behaviors related to obesity within a rational choice framework allowing that gasoline prices might change mode of transportation through a substitution effect and/or any number of physical activities that an individual may participate in more or less due to an overall income effect associated with changing gasoline prices. Cross-sectional data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) over 2006 to 2008, provide detailed information on the amount of time Americans spend in a wide variety of activities including shopping, housework, and physical exercise, and incorporates individuals’ BMI. Also using monthly state-level gasoline prices from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), this study employs year and state-level fixed effects to identify a casual connection between gasoline prices and obesity.

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