• Universal Cash Transfers Reduce Childhood Obesity Rates

      Watson, Brett; Reimer, Matthew; Guettabi, Mouhcine (SSRN, 2019)
      We evaluate the impact of universal income on childhood obesity. While the goals of implementing universal income are many, its influence on childhood obesity is of particular interest given the growing obesity epidemic and its future threat to global public health. We use evidence from Alaska’s universal income program, the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), which has provided annual, unconditional, and universal income to Alaskan residents for over thirty-five years. We use both survey and administrative data to evaluate how the availability of unconditional resources at an early developmental stage, in terms of PFD payments to the child, affects a child’s body mass index (BMI). Using date-of-birth eligibility cut-offs as an identification strategy, we find that an additional one thousand dollars in PFD payments decreases the probability of an Alaskan child being obese by as much as 4.5 percentage points. Back-of-the-envelope calculations for Alaska suggest these reduction may avert 500 cases of obesity and achieve medical cost savings of $2-10 million per year. These findings highlight just one of the potential social benefits of universal income and the potential it has as a tool for addressing the obesity epidemic.