Economics ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 12-2018


Using diet, exercise, consumer behavior, and demographic data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), I examine the factors that contribute to body mass index (BMI) for the adult working age population. In Chapters 2 and 3, I examine how female BMI varies by race and ethnicity. In Chapter 4, I study the effect of food deserts on BMI and obesity for both males and females.

In Chapter 2, I use Bayesian Model Averaging (BMA) to examine the factors that influence female BMI for the adult working age population. Results indicate 12 of the 40 covariates are strongly correlated with BMI for women. When I perform the analysis by race and ethnicity, clear differences emerge. There is evidence energy intake influences BMI for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, but not for Mexican Americans. Conversely, energy expenditure influences BMI for Mexican Americans, but not for non-Hispanic whites or non-Hispanic blacks. Alcohol consumption, smoking, income, and a college education are correlated with a lower BMI for non-Hispanic whites, but have no influence on BMI for non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican Americans.

In Chapter 3, I use the results from the BMA analysis in Chapter 2 to guide in the selection of an empirical model to examine female BMI by race and ethnicity. I find the average BMI is over two points higher for Mexican Americans and over three and a half points higher for non-Hispanic blacks, relative to non-Hispanic whites. I apply the Blinder-Oaxaca (BO) decomposition to examine if differences in the female BMI gap derive from characteristics or responses to characteristics. For Mexican Americans, I find higher BMI rates arise from less protective responses to aging and energy expenditure. For non-Hispanic blacks, the difference in BMI can be almost entirely attributed to higher energy intake levels combined with a much lower protective response to the type of calories consumed.

In Chapter 4, I study the effect of food deserts on BMI and obesity for the male and female adult working age population. Using self-reported travel time to the grocery store as a proxy for food deserts, I find food deserts have no effect on BMI or obesity.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Economics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Melissa Binder

Second Committee Member

Jennifer Thacher

Third Committee Member

Richard Santos

Fourth Committee Member

Nancy Lopez




Body Mass Index, Obesity, Female, Race, Ethnicity, Bayesian Model Averaging

Document Type