[Ideas of India] Archana Dang on Savings, Self-Control and Obesity Patterns

Archana Dang on Savings, Self-Control and Obesity Patterns 16/12/21 by Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/132778518

Episode: https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/ideasofindia/IOI-033-JM-ArchanaDang-podcast-v2.mp3?dest-id=2249435

This episode is the tenth in a miniseries of weekly short episodes featuring young scholars entering the academic job market who discuss their latest research. In this episode, Shruti talks with Dr. Archana Dang about her paper, “Role of Time Preferences in Explaining the Burden of Malnutrition: Evidence from Urban India.” They discuss India’s double burden of over- and undernutrition, why financial savings might be a good predictor of obesity, the effects of COVID on India’s obesity levels and much more. Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Economic Growth. Her research interests include the economics of health, specifically issues of overweight and obesity in India. Her work has been published in the journal Economics and Human Biology. Follow Shruti on Twitter: https://twitter.com/srajagopalan For a full transcript of this conversation with helpful links, visit DiscourseMagazine.com.

Listen Date: 1 September 2022

Notes:

  • Shruti made a big deal about “optimal overweightness” and how people could be rationally (which doesn’t mean consciously) keeping themselves overweight because the pain of dieting, et cetera wasn’t worth the pleasure of being healthy. Which is fair enough, but my big issue with this line of research was “How did Dr Dang control for shocks that wiped out savings?”
  • Oh my god, this was an interview of Dr Dang.
  • And now that I write it down, I realise that she would have had to control for positive shocks as well – what of the person with non existent self control whose savings have just benefited from a windfall inheritance (or property sale, or whatever).
  • Eventually, listening further on in the episode and reading the paper; I found that Dr Dang was doing a discount rate calculation to see how much of a discount rate a person had and then correlate that with BMI. OK, that works… too some extent, I suppose. The nitpicks I’ll make there are that six month discount rate isn’t necessarily the relevant one- surely there is a yield curve and not a one-size-fits-all discount rate. Also, one thing I’ve suspected for many years is that the same person may have a very different yield curve for pleasure and pain. (I’m reading Robert Frank now, and if I’ve understood it right, I think behavioural economics and loss aversion hints at something similar).
  • Drawing people’s yield curves would be an interesting economics exercise in itself I suppose.
  • Apart from that, my impression of this paper is mostly – meh. Being overweight depends on what you eat, how much of it you eat, genetics, blah blah apart from simply self-control (which might also be genetic). If someone is socialised into eating huge portions is that even a self-control issue?
  • Everything comes back to whichever of Aristotle, Socrates, or Plato it was who thought that if you know good, you do good. But self-control makes a mockery of that; and so does what you think is good in the context of what you eat. (Which Shruti was approaching tangentially through the question about caste.)

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