The Causal Effect of Education on Obesity: Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Laws

66 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2009 Last revised: 22 Nov 2009

Date Written: November 12, 2009


Obesity is one of the fastest-growing health concerns in developed as well as developing countries. Raising general education levels is one of the primary public interventions suggested to address this issue. Much is known about the positive correlation between education and health outcomes; less about the causality. This paper investigates the relationship between obesity and education in an Instrumental Variables (IV) framework that uses the variation caused by state-specific compulsory schooling laws between 1914 and 1978 as an instrument for education. Examining data from the first two waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) I find a strong and statistically significant negative effect of additional schooling on Body Mass Index (BMI) measures, larger than OLS estimates imply. The effect on females is especially pronounced. These results are robust to weak instruments and various other validity checks, and suggest that policies designed to increase years of schooling for at-risk populations might lead to substantial health improvements.

Keywords: Compulsory school law, Obesity, BMI, Education, NHANES, Weak instrument

JEL Classification: I10, I12, I20, C01

Suggested Citation

Grabner, Michael, The Causal Effect of Education on Obesity: Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Laws (November 12, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Grabner (Contact Author)

HealthCore, Inc. ( email )

800 Delaware Avenue
Fifth Floor
Wilmington, DE 19801
United States

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