IZA DP No. 9087: Peer Effects, Fast Food Consumption and Adolescent Weight Gain
published in: Journal of Health Economics, 2015, 42, 125-138
This paper aims at opening the black box of peer effects in adolescent weight gain. Using Add Health data on secondary schools in the U.S., we investigate whether these partly flow through the eating habits channel. Adolescents are assumed to interact through a friendship social network. We propose a two-equation model. The first equation provides a social interaction model of fast food consumption. To estimate this equation we use a quasi maximum likelihood approach that allows us to control for common environment at the network level and to solve the simultaneity (reflection) problem. Our second equation is a panel dynamic weight production function relating an individual's Body Mass Index z-score (zBMI) to his fast food consumption and his lagged zBMI, and allowing for irregular intervals in the data. Results show that there are positive but small peer effects in fast food consumption among adolescents belonging to a same friendship school network. Based on our preferred specification, the estimated social multiplier is 1.15. Our results also suggest that, in the long run, an extra day of weekly fast food restaurant visits increases zBMI by 4.45% when ignoring peer effects and by 5.11%, when they are taken into account.