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The (Agri-)Cultural origins of obesity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number112523
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date29 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


King's Authors


Previous research has shown that societies that historically focused on agricultural production demonstrate higher levels of long-term orientation. This suggests that the deep-rooted cultural origins of time preference may have a scarring impact on modern obesity rates through intergenerational transmission. We hypothesize that a historically long-term oriented culture could result in the behavioural choices of better diet and more exercise today, via the reinforced ability of individuals to delay gratification. Using a sample of 132 countries, we employ regression analysis to first estimate the historical determinants of time preference, and then examine the impact of long-term orientation on obesity. Controlling for other factors, we find that, on average, historically long-term oriented countries exhibit significantly lower obesity rates today. Results are robust to different methodological approaches and sensitivity analyses. Policies targeting obesity should consider those deep-rooted behavioural factors that can determine the differential response of individuals to policy instruments.

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