The education gradient in health : the case of obesity in the UK and US

Kim, Young-Joo and Daly, Vincent (2019) The education gradient in health : the case of obesity in the UK and US. (Discussion Paper) Kingston upon Thames, U.K. : School of Law, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Kingston University. 32 p. (Economics Discussion Papers, no. 2019-4)


Obesity is gaining increasing attention as an issue requiring public policy initiatives. We examine the determinants of obesity in middle age, with particular attention to the role played by educational attainment. Applying quantile regression methods to longitudinal data sets from the UK and the US, we estimate the schooling effect on the distribution of Body Mass Index (BMI), the primary measure of obesity. Conditioning on childhood BMI and other characteristics of childhood, we confirm health disparities across education groups, establish that this is not a disguised income gradient and extend the current literature by showing that the education effect is greater for the upper quantiles of the BMI distribution, where obesity is indicated. We further show that the finding of variation in health returns to education along the conditional distribution of BMI, which is not revealed by conventional least squares methods, is robust across various specifications and with respect to a test addressing the potential endogeneity of education. Our similar findings across data from the UK and the US, despite the differences in public health policies and means of access to health care services, further reinforce the argument that education, in itself, plays an important role in determining at least this aspect of health status.

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