Leap of Faith: Legal Marijuana Will Cut Obesity Rates

Look for a link, turn it into a policy, and obesity is on its way to being solved. It might not be foolproof, but it’s been tried. The current supposition is that the link seen in self-reported data for marijuana use, legalization, and lower BMI can be translated into a policy for reducing obesity. If you stop and think about it, this might work and it might not.

Joseph Sabia, Jeffrey Swigert, and Timothy Young have analyzed data on the legalization of medical marijuana and self-reported data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to find this link. They conclude that medical marijuana laws (MMLs) are associated with a two to six percent decline in the probability of obesity because:

MMLs [medical marijuana laws] may be more likely to induce marijuana use for health-related reasons among older individuals, and cause substitution toward lower-calorie recreational “highs” among younger individuals.

They go on to estimate that MMLs may save up to $115 per person annually in obesity-related medical costs.

It’s an interesting analysis that must be taken with a large grain of salt. It builds on data from other studies that found lower BMIs in people who report using marijuana. But at the end of the day, it’s a very fragile finding because it relies upon self-reports of multiple stigmatized observations: excess weight, alcohol use, and marijuana use. It’s tough enough to rely on self-reports for any one of these. Throw them all together, and you better be ready for a big leap of faith.

It’s an intriguing possibility, but we better not count on MMLs putting a real dent in obesity rates until we have some real evidence in hand.

Click here for more from the Washington Post and here for the study. Click here, here, and here for more studies of the link between marijuana use and obesity.

Marijuana, photograph © MarihuanayMedicina / flickr

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December 8, 2015

One Response to “Leap of Faith: Legal Marijuana Will Cut Obesity Rates”

  1. December 09, 2015 at 6:21 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Rimonabent (?sp) worked in Europe but seemed to have unacceptable side effects – I think it was suicide. But as you say, their methodology is barely suggestive at best.