Do Better-Informed Individuals Make Healthier Choices? Evidence from Calorie Labeling and Weight Gain During Pregnancy
AbstractDoes disclosure of dietary information lead to healthier choices and outcomes? We use calorie labeling laws (CLLs) to investigate the effect of information disclosure on people’s health behaviors and outcomes. CLLs mandate the disclosure of calorie content of fast food items to the public, exogenously raising the level of available information. Unlike previous studies that look at all adults; we focus on pregnant women, a subpopulation that is likely to be more sensitive to new dietary information. To measure the impact of information disclosure on maternal behaviors and outcomes, we use Natality Data and employ a difference-in-differences strategy where the 2008 New York City Labeling Mandate serves as the exogenous shock. In order to make sure our results are not unique to NYC, we do the same analysis for King County where a similar CLL took effect.
Our results show a statistically significant decline of 4.1 percent in maternal weight gain during pregnancy for NYC. This decline is higher for first pregnancies. Excessive weight gain (i.e. gaining more than 15 kg) during pregnancy also decreases, especially among minorities and relatively younger mothers. We find statistically significant and economically meaningful declines in the prevalence of pregnancy-associated hypertension, post-term pregnancies (gestation>=42 weeks) and fetal macrosomia (birth weight>4500 grams). Point estimates from King County agree with those from NYC and raise our confidence to state that the identified effects are not unique to NYC.
These results suggest that available information has a significant impact on maternal weight gain during pregnancy. This impact seems to translate into a decrease in the incidence of risk factors and complications during pregnancy and labor. Our findings imply that providing expecting mothers with necessary information and raising awareness about the consequences of their choices should be an integral part of policies towards maternal and child health.