PhD: Economic analysis of dietary and physical activity behaviours: consequences for obesity interventions (MRC Capacity Building PhD)

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Diet and physical activity are two of the five key risk factors being addressed to improve health in the UK. The evidence base relating to the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of public health interventions designed to influence such behaviours is weak. In other lifestyle behaviours, such as smoking and alcohol use, empirical models of behaviour based on secondary data have been developed. Studies have considered models of single-lifestyle behaviours with varying concentration on the roles of prices, information, regulation and peers. With respect to diet and physical activity there has been less research. This thesis has examined individuals’ combined diet and physical activity behaviours and the factors influencing those behaviours, including social status and deprivation. The effect of diet and physical activity on obesity, measured by BMI, has been examined using a range of data sources and modelling approaches, and policy implications have been identified.

Outcome and Translation

This PhD project improved understanding of the economic factors that affect diet and physical activity choices to inform the development of policy interventions. Simultaneous estimation of diet and physical activity suggested that low activity-uptake was associated with significantly higher BMI in overweight and obese individuals regardless of diet quality. Whilst there was evidence that diet quality is important for individual body weight, physical activity had a major influence on BMI, especially in the upper quantiles of the BMI distribution, i.e. amongst those with the most excess weight. This was found even for levels of physical activity below recommended levels, suggesting that any physical activity has a benefit for overweight and obese individuals. This finding may be useful in developing future information and advice.

PhD student: Frauke Becker

Supervisors: Anne Ludbrook and Barbara Eberth (HERU)


Becker, F. (2012) 'Economic dietary analysis and physical activity behaviours in relation to obesity', PhD Thesis, HERU, University of Aberdeen.


Becker, F. (2009) ‘Patterns in dietary and physical activity behaviour in Scotland consequences for obesity intervention’, Annual Public Health Conference, Peebles, November 2009.

Becker, F., Ludbrook, A. and Eberth, B. (2010) 'Determinants of diet and physical activity - empirical evidence from the Scottish Health Survey', European Conference on Health Economics, Helsinki, July 2010.

Becker, F. (2011) 'Determinants of diet and physical activity - empirical evidence from the Scottish Health Survey', University of Aberdeen PhD Symposium, Aberdeen, February 2011

Becker, F. (2011) 'Diet and physical therapy - simultaneous determinants of BMI', HERU Workshop on Obesity, Aberdeen, May 2011.

Becker, F. and Eberth, B. (2012) 'Decomposition of changes in BMI distributions using quantile regression: empirical evidence from the HILDA survey', Nordic Health Economists' Study Group (NHESG), Kuopio, Finland, August 2012.