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Fat is the new normal, FSU researcher says

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- American women have gotten fatter as it has become more socially acceptable to carry a few extra pounds, according to a new study.

Florida State University Assistant Professor of Economics Frank Heiland and Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Economist Mary Burke are the co-authors of a paper published in the academic journal Economic Inquiry that argues that the ballooning weight of the population has fed even more collective weight gain as our perception of what is considered a normal body size has changed.

This is a social force that we are trying to document because the rise in obesity has occurred so rapidly over the past 30 years, said Heiland, who also is affiliated with FSUs Center for Demography and Population Health. Medically speaking, most agree that this trend is a dangerous one because of its connection to diabetes, cancer and other diseases. But psychologically, it may provide relief to know that you are not the only one packing on the pounds.

The paper, Social Dynamics of Obesity, is the first to provide a mathematical model of the impact of economic, biological and social factors on aggregate body weight distribution. It also is one of the first studies to suggest that weight norms may change and are not set standards based on beauty or medical ideals.

Many economists believe that people eat more -- and thus gain weight -- when food prices drop, but thats just part of the story behind the nations dramatic weight gain since the late 1970s, according to the researchers. The full price of a calorie has dropped by about 36 percent relative to the price of consumer goods since 1977, but prices leveled off in the mid-1990s. And yet American women continued to get bigger.

Heiland and Burkes social multiplier theory offers a potential reason why: As Americans continue to super-size their value meals, the average weight of the population increases and people slowly adjust t
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Contact: Frank Heiland
fheiland@fsu.edu
850-644-7083
Florida State University
6-Aug-2007


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