Do Birth Cohorts Matter? Age-Period-Cohort Anaylses of the Obesity Epidemic in the United States
Social Science and Medicine
Many studies have cited the importance of secular changes or “period effects” as causes of the U.S. obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, relatively little attention has been devoted to the possible influence of cohort-related mechanisms. To address this current gap in the scientific literature, this investigation utilized the responses from 1.7 million participants in the 1976–2002 National Health Interview Surveys to determine how birth cohorts may have contributed to the rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity. Results from hierarchical age-period-cohort (HAPC) models confirmed that period effects are principally responsible for the U.S. obesity epidemic. However, HAPC models also demonstrated that birth cohort membership is influential. Independent of age and period effects, the predicted probability of obesity at age 25 increased by 30% for cohorts born between 1955 and 1975. Our results also showed that age, period and cohort effects varied by race/gender and educational attainment. For instance, increases in the predicted probabilities of obesity were particularly sharp for recent cohorts of Black females. Our investigation successfully demonstrated that both secular change and birth cohort membership have independently contributed to elevated odds of obesity among recent generations of Americans, suggesting that cohort-specific strategies may be needed to combat disconcertingly high rates of obesity in the U.S.
Reither, Eric N., Robert M. Hauser, and Yang Yang. 2009. “Do birth cohorts matter? Age period-cohort analyses of the obesity epidemic in the United States.” Social Science & Medicine 69(10):1439-1448.