Two thirds of Americans are overweight and a third are obese. Obesity carries with it a variety of health risks and costs health care systems billions of dollars a year. In a sense, this is puzzling, since the solution to obesity is so simple: lose weight. Eating fewer calories and getting more exercise can generally accomplish this. So why do we not see more of this?
Answering this question requires, at a minimum, knowing more about how diets respond to health news. Oster uses a novel method to estimate dietary responses to a diagnosis of diabetes. Using detailed data on foods purchased she can ask not only how much people change their diet on average, but exactly what foods they eat less of (or more of). She can also ask who responds most to a diagnosis. Are there some successful dieters? And what can we learn from their success? Oster will connect facts from the data to theories from psychology and behavioral economics to answer these questions.
Emily Oster is an associate professor of economics at Brown University and currently serves as a research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Oster studies health and development economics. She has worked on issues of demand for medical testing (“Optimal Expectations and Limited Medical Testing: Evidence from Huntington Disease”) and the consequences of health information for behavior. Her work extends to studying HIV in the developing world (“HIV and Sexual Behavior Change: Why not Africa?”), as well as issues of gender inequality (“The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women’s Status in India”).
Oster has a history of rethinking conventional wisdom. She has investigated the role of bad weather in the rise in witchcraft trials in Medieval Europe, what drives people to play the Powerball lottery and assumptions about HIV in Africa. Her work is perhaps best known among non-economists for her writings and appearances in mainstream media, including the Wall Street Journal, Slate, the best-selling SuperFreakonomics book, and her 2007 TED Talk. She is the author of Expecting Better: How to Fight the Pregnancy Establishment with Facts.
Please join us for a reception after the talk.