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University of Cincinnati Law Review

Abstract

Traditional law and economic analysis considers how laws directly incentivize socially optimal behaviors. Meanwhile, a growing theoretical literature posits that beyond deterrence or incentives, laws also communicate normative judgments that can have effects unanticipated by classical predictions. This Article presents empirical evidence supporting the broader legal theory that laws can express social values, leading to shifts in social norms. Using data on adolescent peer networks in the United States, I find that where anti-obesity policies are stricter, social stigma increases for obese girls, though obesity rates do not necessarily decrease. These results are robust and consistent with a model in which the obese, in an anti-obesity policy environment, are negatively perceived as exerting less effort in their health than their non-obese peers. I explore implications of this stigma.

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