This paper examines the relationship between education and health behaviours, focusing on potential offsetting responses between calories in (i.e. dietary intakes) and calories out (i.e. physical activity). It exploits the 1972 British compulsory schooling law that raised the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16 to estimate the effects of education on diet and exercise around middle age. Using a regression discontinuity design, the findings suggest that the reform led to a worsening of the quality of the diet, with increases in total calories, fats and animal proteins. However, I find that these changes are partially offset by a discontinuous increase in physical activity. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest little effect on the balance of calories. As such, the findings show that focusing on the two components of energy balance provides additional information that is concealed in analyses that only use a measure of obesity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
I thank two anonymous referees, the editor Climent Quintana‐Domeque, John Cawley, Matt Dickson, Eleonora Fichera, Katharina Janke, Hans van Kippersluis, Birgitta Rabe, Hans Sievertsen, seminar participants at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Toulouse School of Economics, and participants at the Royal Economic Society and the Health Economics Study Group conference for comments on a previous version of the paper. I gratefully acknowledge financial support from the UK Medical Research Council (G1002345).
© 2021 The Authors. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics published by Oxford University and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.