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Econ Hum Biol. 2018 Feb;28:92-106. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2017.12.004. Epub 2017 Dec 20.

The intergenerational transmission of obesity: The role of time preferences and self-control.

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Economic and Health Policy Research Program, American Cancer Society, 250 Williams St., Atlanta, GA, 30303, USA. Electronic address:
Economic and Health Policy Research Program, American Cancer Society, 250 Williams St., Atlanta, GA, 30303, USA.
Department of Economics, Georgia State University, 14 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta, GA, 30303, USA.
Computational Social Science Institute, University of Massachusetts, 40 Campus Center Way, Amherst, MA 01003, USA; Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, 200 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA, 01003, USA.
The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, 8401 W Dodge Rd., Omaha, NE, 68114, USA.
Department of Economics, University of California, Irvine, 3151 Social Science Plaza, Irvine, CA, 92697, USA.


Previous research has found that impatient time preferences and self-control problems (present bias) are related to increased obesity risk. However, scant evidence exists pertaining to whether parents' impatience and self-control problems impact the obesity status of their children, too. Accordingly, we explore this study question among a large national sample of US adults and their children. Study results confirm previous findings indicating that intertemporal preferences are related to adults' obesity status. Moreover, these results extend the literature by finding that children of impatient or present-biased parents have a significantly higher likelihood of being obese, too. Specifically, parents' low levels of patience and present bias were each independently related to a five-percentage point increase in the likelihood of obesity of their children. These findings were more pronounced when all children were combined in analyses and for the first child; however, they varied for the second and third child. Thus, findings suggest that parents' time preferences and self-control problems likely affect not only their own weight status but that of their children.


Intergenerational effects; Obesity; Present bias; Time preferences

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