…so claims this headline. Only the story screws it up.
The article highlights this dissertation research by Charles Courtemanche at Washington University in St. Louis. Courtemanche’s thesis is that the rise in gas prices causes more people to walk, ride bikes, or take public transportation (which they’d also have to walk to), as well as eat at home instead of going out; therefore higher gasoline prices can result in a thinner population. Sounds plausible. I won’t get into all the details of his research (the .pdf is available from the above link for anyone interested), but just by reading the abstract I can see a glaring error in the report, which makes the gas price hypothesis sound a lot bigger than it is. See if you can spot it:
From Courtemanche’s dissertation abstract:
I use a fixed effects model to explore whether this theory has empirical support, finding that an additional $1 in real gasoline prices would reduce obesity in the U.S. by 15% after five years, and that 13% of the rise in obesity between 1979 and 2004 can be attributed to falling real gas prices during this period.
The report, written by Charles Courtenance for his doctoral dissertation in health economics, found that the 13 percent rise in obesity between 1979 and 2004 can be attributed to falling pump prices.
Do you have keener eyes than Reuters’ editors? And who wants to wager how frequently this mistake will be cited in future stories on this topic, rather than the data that Courtemanche actually presents?