Obesity and Self Control: Evidence from Food Purchase Data

Ying Bao, Matthew Osborne, Emily Yucai Wang, Edward C. Jaenicke

Research output: Working paper


In this paper, we examine the relationship between obesity and food purchase behavior using a novel and unique dataset that links individual-level scanner data on food purchases to survey data containing questions about an individual's obesity status. We find that obese individuals have higher purchase shares of unhealthy goods, are more likely to purchase products offered in checkout lanes that exploit consumer temptation, and are significantly more sensitive to price changes in product categories that are both unhealthy and tempting. We find no differences in price sensitivity across obesity levels in comparable product categories that would not be considered tempting. Moreover, we find that the relationship between price sensitivity and BMI is significantly smaller for individuals who have recently lost weight. Our empirical results are consistent with the model of self-control developed by Gul and Pesendorfer (2001) and Benabou and Pycia (2002). We do not find systematic support for the idea that more obese individuals are more myopic, in contrast to earlier research. We also do not find systematic evidence that obesity is correlated with worse information about the consequences of unhealthy eating.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages69
StateSubmitted - Oct 23 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • obesity
  • self-control
  • scanner data
  • marketing and health


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