Does access to fast food lead to super-sized pregnant women and whopper babies?

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15 Scopus citations


Rise in the availability of fast-food restaurants has been blamed, at least partly, for the increasing obesity in the U.S. The existing studies of obesity have focused primarily on children, adolescents, and adults, and this paper extends the literature by raising a little-studied question and using nationally representative data to answer it. It examines the relationship between the supply of fast-food restaurants and weight gain of pregnant women and their newborns. I study prenatal weight gain because excessive weight gain has been linked to postpartum overweight/obesity and I study both tails of the birthweight distribution because the origin of obesity may be traced to the prenatal period and both tail outcomes have been associated with obesity later in life. I merge the 1998 and 2004 Natality Detail Files with the Area Resource File, and County Business Patterns, which provide data on the number of fast-food restaurants in the metropolitan area where the mother resides. The empirical model includes an extensive list of MSA characteristics and MSA fixed effects to control for factors that may be correlated with both health outcomes and restaurants' location decision. Results reveal that the fast-food and weight gain relationship is robust to the inclusion of these controls but these controls greatly mitigate the fast food-infant health relationship. Greater access to fast-food restaurants is positively related to mothers' probability of excessive weight gain but it does not share a statistically significant relationship with birthweight. These relationships hold in all the socioeconomic and demographic subgroups studied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-380
Number of pages17
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Birthweight
  • Child obesity
  • Fast food
  • Prenatal weight gain


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