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.

  • September 13, 2007

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.

In a recent research paper, Charles Courtemanche, an economist at the University of Washington, St. Louis, provides the empirical support. He writes,

“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.”

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.