Weight, Reference Points, and the Onset of Eating Disorders

from Journal of Health Economics at http://bit.ly/2V6sY2J on March 31, 2019 at 12:06PM

Publication date: Available online 30 March 2019

Source: Journal of Health Economics

Author(s): Tiziano Arduini, Daniela Iorio, Eleonora Patacchini


We investigate whether the development of eating disorders, in the form of purging, is influenced by peers’ body size through interpersonal comparisons. Using detailed information on recent cohorts of U.S. teenagers, we document a sizeable and significant negative effect of high school peers’ body mass index (BMI) on purging behavior during the adolescence for females, but not for males. Interpersonal comparisons operate through the formation of a distorted self-perception: teenage girls with relatively thin female peers perceive themselves as heavier than they actually are. The girls who are more susceptible to peer influences are those having peers who are thinner, more popular, more (verbally) able, and with more educated parents.