Keywords: Obesity; Health care costs; Efficiency; Equity
Abstract: Obesity in Europe is rising. This paper investigates the economic rationales for public intervention to control obesity. We present new empirical evidence showing that family background is related to obesity among young European adults. This evidence provides a strong basis for intervention on equity grounds, particularly targeted towards children. The case for intervention on efficiency grounds is less clear-cut and in most cases the evidence is relatively weak. We find insufficient evidence that information deficiencies are important, as the majority of Europeans appear to be aware of the bad consequences of obesity on health. We also find that the potential health insurance externality — non-obese effectively subsidizing obese individuals — is small. In support of policy intervention, we show that there are product and labour market imperfections. Obese employees earn less than the non-obese. We also find that there is a remarkably high proportion of individuals with self-control problems, who fail to stick to their self-declared weight-related plans. Regulations that affect fast food advertisements and the location and access to fast food vending machines and establishments may help these individuals in controlling their weight.