post by Bill Gardner
Reading Aaron Carroll on the consumption of sugared drinks by young males, I had a thought about why the young are reckless with their health -- adolescence is the peak time for initiation of health risk behaviors. There is a lot of work on problems of time discounting and other problems of self-control, which are more severe for adolescents. What occurred to me, though, was a sense in which it is rational to be reckless with your health when you are young.
I have in mind a simple model in which a person holds two stocks of resources that they can expend to obtain well-being: money and health. The person converts these resources into well-being by engaging in activities. Suppose there are two such activities: drinking Coke and eating at world class vegetarian restaurants. Drinking Coke costs very little, but if you consume a lot of it you are spending down your stock of health. Eating at Greens costs a lot of money but little if any health. The young, of course, have seeming limitless health, but little cash. (It is often said that the young think they are immortal, is this what that stupid phrase means?) Consuming Coke is, therefore, much cheaper than gourmet vegetarian food, when we consider cost as including both cash and health. As you age, most of us get more income, while our health dwindles, and high-end vegetarianism becomes increasingly attractive. So it is rational to specialize in health-destroying behaviors when you are young.
This is obvious, and likely has been written about many times before. The point is just to underscore the challenge of promoting healthy behavior in kids.