OK now this one had me bemused. On the ABC News website, “Baby bonus leading to fatter kids: economist.” Really? Seems surprising …
A Canberra economist says an increase in the baby bonus could lead to unhealthier children.
Research by the Australian National University’s (ANU) Andrew Leigh and a colleague suggests the introduction of the baby bonus in 2004 led to more children being born overweight, because their deliveries were deliberately delayed to obtain the bonus.
Dr Leigh says a planned increase in the baby bonus from July 1 this year could produce a similar outcome.
“I think people are very familiar with the fact that premature and very light babies tend to have worse health outcomes,” he said.
“But it’s actually also the case that very heavy babies also have worse health outcomes.
“Undercooking is bad and overcooking is bad too.”
Hmm, I guess I should have been aware of this one as Andrew was referring to our joint paper.
The title of the ABC item doesn’t match the content. The baby bonus is not causing childhood obesity; well, except for a few weeks amongst new borns in July 2004, 2006 and possibly 2008. It is just that when the baby bonus jumps in level on the 1st July in those years, parents appear to delay births and what do you know, the average weight of babies born are higher. If you look at the more thoughtful Canberra Times piece today you will see that that can be associated with complications in childbirth.
Anyhow, while it isn’t a cause of childhood obesity, moving the baby bonus payments to $5,000 this July is a bad idea. It will cost taxpayers $250m extra per year (forever!) and it will cause delayed births as parents react to incentives to do just that. Health Minister Roxon, please don’t do this.
[Related: Peter Martin chimes in on axing the baby bonus entirely.]
[Update: ABC softens the story.]