Economic, Lifestyle, and Social Influences on Obesity


To examine the importance of key economic factors such as cost and access measures and social safety factors on BMI and obesity. Also to provide an extensive outreach program based on the research findings to inform both policy makers and households of which policies, programs and practices may be effective at combating obesity.


The public health challenge that stems from obesity is a critical national concern. The influence of economic and environmental factors on people’s lifestyles such as eating and physical activity behaviors and, in turn, how these factors may influence obesity has not been adequately studied and deserves further investigation. To examine the relationship between these variables, this research proposes to augment several large national survey data sets for child, youth, and adult populations that include anthropometric, behavioral, and socio-demographic individual-level information with external information on food prices, local area grocery store, eating places, and physical activity-related outlet density measures, and area crime data.

The overall goals of this integrated project are to:

  1. Study the influence of economic, lifestyle, and social factors on obesity.
  2. Provide an extensive outreach program that will use the findings from our research to inform both policymakers and households of which policies, programs, and practices are effective at combating obesity.

The specific research aims in examining obesity are to address:

  • Economic influences: examine the relationship between obesity and a) prices of food and fast food; b) availability and accessibility as measured by local area food store and fast food/restaurant outlet density and physical activity-related outlet density measures; c) household income; and, d) assistance programs;
  • Lifestyle influences: we will also examine the impact of economic factors on eating and physical activity patterns and, in turn, will examine the influence of the following lifestyle factors on obesity: a) food consumption patterns; b) physical activity; c) sedentary behaviors; and, d) attitudes toward food and health
  • Social influences: examine the relationship between adult obesity and community neighborhood safety controlling for economic factors.

The outreach component of this project will disseminate our research findings in order to inform policy makers, health professionals, government officials and parents on potentially effective policies/regulations and tools to help address the obesity problem. We will develop a web-based resource for obesity-related material including, relevant publications, policy briefs, fact sheets, and tool kits. Findings will provide policy makers with a better understanding of the extent to which economic incentives and environmental policy changes may serve as tools to modify Americans’ eating and physical activity behaviors to help fight the obesity epidemic.

Affiliated Center/Program

Funding for this study ended in 2009. Learn about the current stage of this research:

Bridging the Gap: Research Informing Practice and Policy for Healthy Youth (2012-2014)
Principal investigator
Funding Agency

U.S. Department of Agriculture
(Grant No. 2005-03337-01-04)

Start date
End date
Total award

Related publications

Powell LM, Bao Y. Food prices, access to food outlets and child weight. Econ Hum Biol. 2009 Mar;7(1):64-72.