A View from Michael Patrick Gibson
The Skinny on a Gas Tax
An economist argues that raising taxes on gasoline could have an unexpected benefit: a less obese population.
There has been much debate about the best policies for reducing carbon emissions. The most common refrain heard from economists is simply that incentives matter: if gas prices increase, people will consume less gasoline (by driving less), and alternative fuels will become more feasible substitutes (by having a more competitive price).
While an increase in the gas tax remains a point of contention, not only among economists, but also among politicians and policy wonks, now supporters of a gas tax have another reason to offer to strengthen their argument: an increase in the price of gas will most likely lead to a less obese population.
“A causal relationship between gasoline prices and obesity is possible through mechanisms of increased exercise and decreased eating in restaurants. 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. I also provide evidence that the effect occurs both by increasing exercise and by lowering the frequency with which people eat at restaurants.”