Childhood Obesity and Unhappiness: The Influence of Soft Drinks and Fast Food Consumption


A growing body of literature has examined the determinants of childhood obesity, but little is known about children’s subjective wellbeing. To fulfill this gap, this paper examines the effects of fast food and soft drink consumption on children’s overweight and unhappiness. Using a nationwide survey data in Taiwan and estimating a simultaneous mixed equation system, our results generally suggest a tradeoff in policy implication. Fast food and soft drink consumption tend to be positively associated with children’s increased risk of being overweight but they are also negatively associated with their degree of unhappiness. Current and future policy/program interventions that aim to decrease fast food and soft drinks consumption of children to reduce childhood obesity may be more effective if these interventions also focus on ways that could compensate the increase in degree of unhappiness among children.

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  1. 1.

    Several indicators from the psychological science can also be found in Frey and Stutzer (2002).

  2. 2.

    Detailed descriptions of the survey designs can be found in Lo et al. (2003) and Pan et al. (2003).

  3. 3.

    We exclude the children sample if their parents didn’t live with them.

  4. 4.

    To avoid the clustering effects as a result of multiple children from the same family, we follow the method used in McIntosh et al. (2006) to randomly select only one child from each household.

  5. 5.

    It is measured as the ratio of weight (in kilogram) to height squared (in meters).

  6. 6.

    The cutoff points for determining overweight or obese weight status in Taiwan can be found on the website

  7. 7.

    The percentages of these categories in our sample are 80, 18, and 2, respectively.

  8. 8.

    To save space, we didn’t present the derivatives of the probability of other regimes. However, they can be derived in a similar way.

  9. 9.

    The interpretation of the treatment effect is similar to the continuous outcome variable case discussed on page 787–788 in Greene (2003). However, it is of note that the average treatment effect in our case is the differences in the predicted probability, instead of the expected values as the continuous variable case.

  10. 10.

    Discussions of the model identification through the nonlinear functional form are on page 121 in Maddala (1983).

  11. 11.

    A detailed discussion of the proposed test procedure can be found on page 71–72 in Kan (2007).

  12. 12.

    The asymptotic statistics of the likelihood ratio test to the F test is discussed in Kan (2007).


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Hung-Hao Chang acknowledges partial funding support from the National Science Counsel of Taiwan under Grant No: 95-2415-H-002-041. The data used in the analysis is provided by the Bureau of Health Promotion, Department of Health and National Health Research Institute in Taiwan. The interpretation and conclusions do not represent those of Department of Health and National Health Research Institute. The authors accept responsibility for any remaining errors or omissions.

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Correspondence to Hung-Hao Chang.

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Chang, HH., Nayga, R.M. Childhood Obesity and Unhappiness: The Influence of Soft Drinks and Fast Food Consumption. J Happiness Stud 11, 261–275 (2010).

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  • Unhappiness
  • Childhood obesity
  • Fast food
  • Soft drink
  • Taiwan