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Time spent exercising and obesity: An application of Lewbel’s instrumental variables method

Joshua C. Pinkston, PhD Courtemanche, C. Stewart, J.
Economics & Human Biology. October 31, 2020

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This paper examines the role physical activity plays in determining body mass using data from the American Time Use Survey. Our work is the first to address the measurement error that arises when time use during a single day—rather than average daily time use over an extended period—is used as an explanatory variable. We show that failing to account for day-to-day variation in activities results in the effects of time use on a typical day being understated. Furthermore, we account for the possibility that physical activity and body mass are jointly determined by implementing Lewbel’s instrumental variables estimator that exploits first-stage heteroskedasticity rather than traditional exclusion restrictions. While averaging 30 min of transportation-related biking or walking per day lowers the BMI of men by 1.5, we find no effect of physically active leisure on the BMI of men in our sample. In contrast, 30 min of per day of either type of physical activity lowers the BMI of women by 1.

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