The Institute of Social and Economic Research’s (ISER) Dr. Mouhcine Guettabi, Associate Professor of Economics, was recently published in Scientific American where he discussed his recent research and results on the impact of universal basic income (UBI) on childhood obesity. The article drew from a longer report which Dr. Guettabi co-authored with Drs. Brett Watson and Matthew Reimer.

measuring tape on a glass scaleWithin the article, Dr. Guettabi asserts that childhood obesity is affected by income and illustrates the unique opportunity presented to researchers with Alaska’s annual Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) distribution which, he says, is the “closest thing to UBI worldwide.” The results of his and his colleagues’ research demonstrated that just $1,000 more per PFD distribution each year would decrease the probability of three-year-olds becoming obese and result in as much as a 4.5 percent point reduction of obesity in this age group. This reduction could potentially avert 500 cases of childhood obesity in Alaskans per year.

These findings are especially significant as previous research suggested the medical costs for obese children end up being approximately $1,400 more annually. When applied to the example of 500 averted cases mentioned before, that would equate to $2.3 million total savings, or $210 per person, for their health care should just some of those children grow to become obese later on in life. If all 500 children remained non-obese through the age of 17, this would translate to a total savings of $10.3 million dollars or $920 per case for their health care.

Dr. Guettabi says of the findings, “These results make it clear that universal income has the possibility of improving children’s health, which can have long-lasting monetary and nonmonetary benefits. It is also encouraging that these health improvements are a result of a non-targeted obesity intervention. It is therefore possible that universal and unconditional cash transfers have far-ranging benefits to society that go beyond those intended by a UBI program.”

You can read more from Dr. Guettabi’s article, Can a Universal Basic Income Reduce Childhood Obesity?, at ScientificAmerican.com or listen to him discuss the research further with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove on their broadcast, Alaska PFD dollars lead to less childhood obesity. You can also check out the full report, Universal Cash Transfers Reduce Childhood Obesity Rates, available in the ISER publications database.