Gas Tax To Make You Thin
"An additional $1 in real gasoline prices would reduce obesity in the U.S. by 15 percent after three years," suggests Charles Courtemanche, an economics researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
Higher gas prices could result in trimmer waistlines, suggests a WUSTL researcher.
"In fact, about 13 percent of the rise in obesity between 1979 and 2004 can be attributed to falling real gas prices during the period."
Courtemanche's conclusions are based on a comparison of average state fuel prices with health behavior trends documented in government surveys covering two decades, 1984-2004. He provides evidences for two direct and causal links between gasoline prices and obesity.
"If the price of gas rises, the cost of driving also rises, which may affect body weight in two ways," Courtemanche explains.
"First, people may substitute from driving to walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation. Walking and bicycling are forms of exercise, which increase calories expended, decreasing weight.
"If a person uses public transportation, such as subways, buses, trolleys, or rail services, the need to move to and from the public transit stops is likely to result in additional walking, again decreasing weight.
"Second, since the opportunity cost of eating out at restaurants rises when the price of gas increases, people may substitute from eating out to preparing their own meals at home, which tend to be healthier. People may also eat out less in an effort to save money to pay for the increased cost of gas."
Titled "A Silver Lining: The Connection between Gas Prices and Obesity," Courtemanche's study touched off a lively debate in online economics groups this summer when findings from his working paper were cited in article published in The New York Times.
Some suggested that Courtemanche was politically incorrect to suggest a gasoline tax as a means of addressing a larger societal problem, such as an individual's obesity. [Read]
At least the author of the research says he is not suggesting such a tax, only stating its result:
"I'm afraid my findings are being a bit misinterpreted," Courtemanche countered. "I did not intend to imply that additional gasoline taxes would be beneficial for society, just that additional gasoline taxes would reduce obesity."
Courtemanche points out that his current study makes no attempt to determine whether increased fuel costs would have a positive or negative net impact on social welfare. He sees this question as a possible direction for future research, but cautions that such studies must be careful to take into account all the consequences of increased fuel costs. [Read]