Feb. 10, 2014

Cawley to study obesity economics with national award

John Cawley
Cawley

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded Cornell health economist John Cawley an Investigator Award in Health Policy Research to support his research on economic causes and consequences of obesity.

Cawley will use the three-year, $335,000 award to study how public and private measures – school-based programs, taxes on sugary drinks and snacks, agricultural subsidies, and financial incentives for weight loss, for instance –influence obesity, a condition that costs the United States $190 billion per year, according to his research.

“One rule of economics is that people respond to incentives, but we also know that people don’t respond equally to all incentives,” said Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management and of economics in the College of Human Ecology. “I investigate how policies can prevent and reduce obesity by making it easier and cheaper for people to eat healthy and be physically active. With so many programs being implemented, it’s important to evaluate them in order to determine what works and which offer the biggest bang for the buck.”

With the RWJF award for his project, “The Price Per Pound: Using Economics to Understand and Reverse the Obesity Epidemic,” Cawley plans to publish a series of journal articles, culminating in a book on the topic. He is editor of “The Oxford Handbook of the Social Science of Obesity” (2011).

“I am very grateful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for this opportunity,” Cawley said of his award, one of eight awarded nationally this year. “It recognizes the important role that economics has to play in the nationwide effort to better understand and address obesity.”

Created in 1992, the RWJF Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research program supports research to address challenges and policy issues related to the health of Americans.

“This prestigious program boasts a long-standing history of supporting important cross-disciplinary research that inspires health policy improvements in communities across the country,” said Alan B. Cohen, director of the RWJF Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research program based at the Boston University School of Management. “We are eager to support these new investments in cutting-edge research, especially at a time when the health care landscape is rapidly changing and the way Americans care for their health is changing with it.”

Ted Boscia is director of communications and media for the College of Human Ecology