Bad times, slimmer children?

In this paper we study the effect of business cycle conditions on infant underweight, overweight and obesity. We exploit 8 waves (1987-2012) of the Spanish National Health Survey for children aged 2-15 and use the regional unemployment rate of the trimester of the interview as a proxy for the business cycle phase at the local level. We find that an increase in the unemployment rate is associated with lower obesity incidence, especially for children under 6 years old and over 12 years old. Negative economic shocks also increase the prevalence of infant underweight, particularly for boys under 6 years old. Moreover, we show that one of the possible mechanism through which the cycle is impacting infant obesity is the nutritional composition of the children’s diet, as well as, increases in the frequency of exercise. Although we show a deterioration in self-reported health for children under 6 years old, we provide some preliminary evidence that suggests that the impact of business cycle conditions on infant weight disorders have little objective health consequences in the short-run and do not persist in the medium-run.

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Documento de Trabajo Fedea 2015-10 «Bad times, slimmer children?»

Autores: Cristina Belles-Obrero (Department of Economics, Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Sergi Jimenez-Martín (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona GSE and FEDEA) y Judit Vall-Castello (Center for research in Economics and Health, Universitat Pompeu Fabra).