May 12, 2010

The Effects of Obesity on the Economy

Teevrat Garg ’10 writes about his research with Susan Averett, professor of economics

Teevrat Garg ’10 (Haryana, India), who is pursuing a B.S. in mathematics and an A.B. with a major in economics and business, is working as an EXCEL Scholar with Susan Averett, professor of economics, on a project examining labor market outcomes of obesity. Garg was a member of the 2009 national championship Fed Challenge team. He also is a member of Forensics Society, which took first place in the 2009 Division III speech portion of The National Forensics Association’s National Tournament. After graduation, he will be pursuing graduate study at Cornell University.Health care has become one of the biggest political, economic, and social issues in the United States. One of the cornerstones in the discussions on health has been the alarming spread of obesity in the United States. While the health consequences of obesity are heavily documented, the literature on the economic consequences of obesity is relatively new. But these consequences exist–not just in the form of labor market discrimination but also in the form of absenteeism and reduced productivity. Our research project last semester was to document these consequences including the challenges of studying obesity related consequences from an economics perspective.

Professor Averett is a highly acclaimed economist in the areas of health economics, labor market economics, and econometrics. As a result, it was nothing unexpected when Prof. John Cawley, department of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, another big name in the field, asked her to write a chapter on the labor market consequences of obesity in the upcoming Oxford Handbook on obesity. The purpose of the text is to give readers an in-depth review of the existing literature on obesity as well as discuss the economic and econometric challenges of researching its outcomes for the working population.

My role in the process was to conduct a thorough review of the literature and crosscheck references in order to ensure that the entirety of the mainstream literature was being covered. In addition, I wrote drafts of sections of the chapter on the economic costs of obesity in terms of absenteeism and disability.

This semester, we continued our research for a different project. This time, it was the Oxford Handbook on poverty where we researched both the literature and the data into understanding the relationship between the obese and the poor.

Working with Prof. Averett was very challenging and rewarding. Being a distinguished academic in the field, her enthusiasm was compelling and her ability to simplify complex ideas made the research manageable and exciting. Furthermore, the research experience was invaluable because it presented the opportunity to conduct extensive literature reviews in a short span of time–similar to the demands of graduate study in the field. This EXCEL project has undoubtedly provided me with strong skill sets for my career plans after Lafayette.

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