A healthy lifestyle: The product of opportunities and preferences - An explorative study

2001/11: Lurås, H., Center for Health Administration & HERO. (PDF)

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It is well documented that health promotion and illness prevention increases the probability of a longer and healthier life. Why is it that some people tend to ignore this information and live an unhealthy life: they smoke, they eat unhealthy fast-food and they don't exercise. In the economists' approach to choice of lifestyle, demand for health is typically derived from the maximisation of discounted future utilities. Hence differences in lifestyle across agents' may be due to the facts that people face different money and time constraints. Moreover, the production possibilities for health, and personal characteristics like time-preferences and attitudes toward risk differ. But is this the whole story? Or can it simply be that people choose the lifestyle that gives them the highest joy and satisfaction today, without bothering if their behaviour affects health? One might also raise the question if lifestyle follows from the habits, traditions and norms people are trained to follow.

The main intention of this explorative study is to get an impression of important factors explaining how people live their life. The starting point is a sample of Norwegians for whom three lifestyle aspects are examined: smoking, exercising and how much fruit and vegetables they eat. In accordance the sample's attitudes toward risk, their time-preferences and attitudes towards own lifestyle choices are explored.

This paper is organised as follows. In section 2 we briefly outline the health demand models, present possible hypotheses on why peoples' lifestyle differ and describe our empirical methods. A description of the data set is given in section 3. In section 4 reduced form equations for the three different lifestyle aspects are examined. We present results from ordered probit analysis as well as from non-parametric testing of differences between groups with a healthy and an unhealthy lifestyle. The results indicate that the mechanisms determining people's lifestyle are complex. It seems that while time- and health constraints to a great extent can explain exercising behaviour, individuals' diet can be explained partly by habits and partly by personal characteristics like time-preferences and attitudes toward risk. It also seems that when some individuals start smoking and some don't, one important reason is differences in personal characteristics. When people continue smoking on the other hand, it is a mean to cope with a hectic daily life. But smoking is also a result of habits or addiction. Based on our empirical results we discuss policy implications of our findings (section 5). We conclude that a healthy lifestyle is a product of both individuals' opportunities and their preferences. At this stage we are not able to predict their relative importance on lifestyle. We also conclude that economic models on the demand for health is a useful analytical framework for understanding differences in lifestyle among individuals, but that both the analytical and the empirical modelling need some refinement.

ISBN 82-7756-074-5

Publisert 25. mai 2011 16:24 - Sist endret 3. okt. 2011 15:25