Published Papers/Forthcoming

Measuring the Impact of Calorie Labeling Laws: The Mechanisms Behind Changes in Obesity (Main Author) with Michael Darden and Diego Rose.

Health Economics


Learning the true calorie content of fast food may induce consumers to change behavior, yet recent evidence is mixed on whether calorie labels cause consumers to order healthier meals. Especially for individuals for whom consumption of highly caloric fast-food is habitual, a rational response to calorie labeling may instead be to maintain consumption levels but increase physical activity. Using American Time Use Survey data from 2004 to 2012, we show that the 2008 New York City Calorie Labeling Mandate significantly improved several measures of physical activity, including overall metabolic equivalents of task units and minutes of sedentary activity. Our results translate to an average extra 28 calories burned per day or a 0.6 kg weight decrease for the average person over one year. These results provide a plausible mechanism for calorie labeling mandates to lower obesity rates, which we demonstrate in the New York City context.

Labor versus Capital in the Provision of Public Services: Estimating the Marginal Products of Inputs in the Production of Student Outcomes with Ali Enami and Jim Alm.

Economics of Education Review


This paper uses data on Ohio school districts to estimate the short and long term impact of different types of school expenditures on student outcomes. Our identification strategy employs a dynamic regression discontinuity design that relies upon the exogenous variation in public school funding created by marginally approved or failed local referenda to fund Ohio schools. We find that additional school expenditures on operating, minor capital, and major capital expenditure categories do not have a statistically significant effect on the student test scores of the average public school. Importantly, however, operating expenditures have a large and statistically significant impact on student performance in higher poverty school districts. We also examine possible channels (e.g., class size, attendance, discipline, and teachers’ compensation) through which each type of expenditure may affect outcomes, and we find that teachers’ compensation is the only channel that is affected by additional operating and minor capital expenditures.

Developing New Scales of Personal Food Security

With David Ribar

Forthcoming at Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics



Food insecurity is standardly measured at the household level or for groups of household members. However, food hardships may differ for individuals within households. Summative measures of people’s individual experiences of food insecurity are needed.


This study aims to develop and analyze psychometrically sound multi-item scales of people’s individual experiences of food insecurity. It further aims to examine whether and how the distributions of personal food insecurity differ across age groups, from household food insecurity, and with people’s observed characteristics.


We analyze questionnaire data on personal food security outcomes, household food security outcomes, and other characteristics. Participants/setting: The subjects participated in the 2005-2006 through 2009-2010 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the United States.Main outcomes: The main outcomes are five-item scales of personal food insecurity for children under age 12, young adolescents aged 12-15, and people aged 16 and over.


The study develops the personal food insecurity scales through factor analyses and polytomous Item Response Theory models and analyzes characteristics that contribute to the scale outcomes through multivariate regressions.


The article develops personal food insecurity scales that are related to but distinct from the standard household scales, with different scales being needed to capture the experiences of our three age groups. Children younger than 12 have much lower risks of personal food insecurity than other age groups, while young adolescents have higher risks than other groups. Among adults, women and people between the ages of 31 and 65 have higher risks of personal food insecurity but similar risks for household food insecurity.


Personal food insecurity is a distinct component of well-being that can be summarized through scale measures. Evidence that characteristics, such as sex and age, contribute to personal food insecurity but not household food insecurity indicates that food experiences can differ within households and that some people may be systematically disadvantaged.

Measuring Directional Mobility: The Bartholomew and Prais-Bibby Indices Reconsidered with Satya R. Chakravarty, Nachiketa Chattopadhyay and Nora Lustig.

Research on Economic Inequality


This paper attempts to interpret the Bartholomew (1973) index of mobility in terms of a directional mobility index based on the one-step expected states of movement corresponding to a specific state of transition matrix. A partial ordering of directional mobility of a general state of transition matrices, referred to as “upward mobility favoring sequential averaging (UMFSA),” is proposed using the algebraic equivalent of the generalized Lorenz ordering of expected states. When the underlying mobility depends on the initial distribution of the states, using a Bayesian approach, the indices are reexamined for a general class of matrices. This enables us to interpret the Prais (1955) and Bibby (1975) mobility index in this framework.

Can We Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Choosing Different Foods? Simulating Carbon Footprint and Nutritional Impacts of Dietary Change in the United States with Amelia Willits-Smith, Martin Heller, Paul Hutchinson and Diego Rose.

Lancet Planetary Health



The role of diet in health is well established and, in the past decade, more attention has been given to the role of food choices in the environment. The agricultural sector produces about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), and meat production, especially beef, is an important contributor to global GHGE. Our study aimed to address a fundamental gap in the diet-climate literature: identifying consumers who are receptive to making dietary changes, and the effect of their potential changes on GHGE, diet healthfulness, and diet costs.


Dietary data on US individuals from a nationally representative survey were linked to food-related GHGE. We identified individuals receptive to changing their diets (potential changers) as those who reported trying US dietary guidance and were likely to agree that humans contribute to climate change. We assessed GHGE, diet healthfulness measured by the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), and diet costs before and after hypothetical changes replacing either beef or meats with poultry or plant-protein foods.


Our sample comprised 7188 individuals, of whom 16% were potential changers. These were disproportionately women, highly educated, or had higher income compared with individuals deemed not likely to change. Replacing 100% of beef intake in potential changers with poultry reduced mean dietary GHGE by 1·38 kg CO2-equivalents per person per day (95% CI 1·19–1·58), a 35·7% decrease. This replacement also increased mean HEI by 1·7% and reduced mean diet costs by 1·7%. We observed the largest changes when replacing all beef, pork, or poultry intake with plant-protein foods (GHGE decreased by 49·6%, mean HEI increased by 8·7%, and dietary costs decreased by 10·5%). Hypothetical replacements in the potential changers alone resulted in whole population reductions in 1-day dietary GHGE of 1·2% to 6·7%, equivalent to 22–126 million fewer passenger vehicle km.


Individual-level diet studies that include a variation in response by consumers can improve our understanding of the effects of climate policies such as those that include sustainability information in national dietary guidance. In our study, we found that changes by a small percentage of motivated individuals can modestly reduce the national dietary GHGE. Moreover, these substitutions can modestly improve diet healthfulness and reduce diet costs for individuals who make these changes.

Working Papers

A League of Their Own: The Effect of Female Youth Sports Participation on Health Behaviors and Outcomes from Adolescence to Retirement Age (Main Author) with Titus Galama and Kevin Thom

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Given the substantial public health costs associated with physical inactivity, it is important to understand how government policies and institutions alter the incentives to adopt and maintain a lifestyle that includes regular exercise and other forms of activity. However, patterns of physical activity often reflect ingrained habits that may be difficult to change.

In this study, we estimate the effects of increased access to organized sports during adolescence on health outcomes and behaviors throughout adulthood and into retirement. To study these effects, we use the implementation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as an instrument for increased access to sports opportunities for girls in high-school settings. This piece of legislation increased high-school athletic opportunities for girls by banning gender discrimination in educational programs in the United States. We use retrospective physical activity information before age 50, and data on health behaviors and outcomes after age 50 from the Health and Retirement Study.

We find that increased sports opportunities for girls during high school had lasting effects on physical activity levels over the life course, from adolescence to retirement ages. We find that girls with increased sporting opportunities did more physically vigorous activities when aged under 50. Later, women shifted towards more physically moderate activities such as walking. Interestingly, we find that the women who benefited the most from increasing sporting opportunities in adolescence were those with a lower genetic propensity to be more physically active. Finally, we find that increased access to sporting opportunities during adolescence led to a decline in the probability of being obese, having heart problems, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure when women are aged over 50.

Behavioral Responses to Mass Shootings in the United States: Physical Activity, Mental Health and Labor Outcomes

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The odds of experiencing a public mass shooting in first person are low. Approximately 411 people have died in such tragic events during the past decade in the United States. However, the high saliency of mass shooting events might induce changes in behavior that may pose an external cost on society. In this paper, I estimate the impact of indirect exposure to high profile acts of violence on behavior by using information on 45 mass shootings from 2003 to 2016. Using individual-level data, I find that being within 250 miles shortly after a mass shooting, individuals overall activity levels decrease by 1.7 percent. This decline is equivalent to a daily 16 minute walk. For an average weight person, this decline would mean 50 less calories burned per day. The decline in activity is mainly explained by a 10 percent decrease in minutes of moderate to vigorous activities and are driven mostly by individuals under 30. In addition to a decrease in activity levels, I find an increase in the probability of having more days where perceived mental health is poor. And interestingly, I find and an increase in the probability of binge drinking. Finally, I also find a statistically significant decrease of 15.6 minutes worked per week shortly after a mass shooting has occurred. These results show that aside from direct victims, mass shootings also impact the short-term behavior of a broader portion of the population.

What to Expect When You’re Labeling? Calorie Labeling’s Impact on Weight Gain During Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes

With Koray Caglayan


We use calorie-labeling laws to investigate the effect of information disclosure on health behavior and outcomes. Unlike previous studies looking at all adults; we focus on pregnant women, a subpopulation that is likely to be more sensitive to new dietary information. We use Natality Data and employ a difference-in-differences strategy where the 2008 New York City Labeling Mandate serves as the exogenous shock. Our results show a 4.4 percent decline in maternal weight gain during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain (i.e. more than 15 kg) during pregnancy also decreases, especially among minorities and relatively younger mothers. We find statistically significant and economically meaningful declines in the prevalence of pregnancy-associated hypertension, post- term pregnancies and birth weight. The impact of information disclosure on maternal weight gain seems to translate into a decrease in the incidence of risk factors and complications during pregnancy and labor. We argue that providing expecting mothers with information and raising awareness about the consequences of their choices should be an integral part of maternal and child health policies.

Works in Progress

With Alan Barreca

Stability of Subsidized Child Care Arrangements in Georgia

With Dave Ribar and Caroline Lamprecht

The Impact of Cigarette Taxes on Newborns: a Regression Discontinuity in Time Approach

With Francisco Beltran-Silva

Environmental Impact of Carbon-Based Taxes and Subsidies on Foods

With Amelia Willits-Smith and Diego Rose

Trans Fats and Hypertensive Disorders during Pregnancy: Evidence from New York State Trans Fat Bans

With Koray Caglayan

Book Chapters

Analytical Foundations: Measuring the Redistributive Impact of Taxes and Transfers with Ali Enami and Nora Lustig

Chapter in N. Lustig (Ed.) Commitment to Equity Handbook. A Guide to Estimating the Impact of Fiscal Policy on Inequality and Poverty. Brookings Institution Press and CEQ Institute, Tulane University.

Inequality and Redistribution in Mexico: 1992-2015 with John Scott and Enrique de la Rosa

Chapter in the book Inequality in the Giants: Mexico Lead Investigator: Nora Lustig. WIDER. Forthcoming.

Economic Determinants of Obesity: Changes in the Cost of Calories in Mexico with Gonzalo Hernandez Licona and Enrique Minor.

Chapter in the book Obesity in Mexico: Recommendations for a State Policy, UNAM 2012. (In Spanish)

Construction of Regional Food Baskets for Poverty Measurement in Mexico with Enrique Minor.

Chapter in the book Mercado de Trabajo, Desarrollo Regional y Politicas Publicas. Editor: Jose Isabel Urciaga Garcia, Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS). (In Spanish)

Welfare Lines Construction. Methodological Document, Methodology for Multidimensional Poverty Measurement in Mexico with Enrique Minor, Martin Lima, Cristina Perez and Hector Sandoval

Book published by CONEVAL, 2012. (in Spanish)

Additional Research Activity

Subsidized Child Care in Georgia: Analysis of the CAPS Program, 2014-2017

Policy brief for Georgia Policy Labs, July 2020

CEQ: Stata module to carry out Commitment to Equity (CEQ) fiscal incidence analysis with Sean Higgins and Ruoxi Li (2013).

Statistical Software Components S457605, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 01 Aug 2017.

Impact of Taxes and Transfers on Rural-Urban Poverty and Inequality in Bolivia, Brasil, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru with Nora Lustig

CEQ Working Paper No. 33, April 2015


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